£4m project to transform Sutton Hoo experience for visitors gets go-ahead
PUBLISHED: 10:01 05 August 2017
Creation of a new footpath and viewing tower will enable visitors to follow in the footsteps of the Anglo-Saxons who dragged the royal burial ship from the River Deben to its final resting place at Sutton Hoo.
The projects – along with a host of other work at the internationally-famous archaeological site – have now been given the go-ahead by Suffolk Coastal council with work expected to be complete by 2021.
The £4million lottery-backed Releasing the Story of Sutton Hoo project will aim to unlock the magic and the stories surrounding one of Britain’s greatest treasures.
The National Trust has been concerned that a visit to Sutton Hoo can currently leave people “underwhelmed” and wants to create a “sense of awe and dignity”, and make visitors feel as if they have visited a World Heritage Site, even though it does not yet have this designation.
The ambitious project will include a 17-metre high tower viewing platform overlooking the burial mounds, and changes to its visitor centre, new hands-on experiences in the exhibition hall, improved car parking, and new walking routes through the site.
It is also proposed to incorporate a metal framework sculpture representing two parts of the ship in the ground, with the river also depicted.
The tower – designed to blend in with the natural landscape – will enable visitors to enjoy a sweeping overview of the mounds, including the one where the famous ship burial with its amazing treasures, believed to be the grave of King Raedwald, was excavated.
Allison Girling, property operations manager at Sutton Hoo said: “Sutton Hoo has always been a place of intrigue and wonder.
“From how and why the Anglo-Saxons chose this place to bury their king and how their arrival on these shores and their customs and traditions have influenced English history and culture for generations, there are fascinating stories to tell here.
“We’ve been working on plans that will bring this place to life and will help visitors delve deeper into the true experience of this special place and the influence it has had both here in Suffolk and around the country.”
The National Trust was given £150,000 to develop its plans and has now applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a £1.8m grant towards the total cost of £4m and expects to find out if it has been successful in September.
Suffolk Coastal planning case officer Michaelle Coupe said the council felt project would enhance visitors’ experience and together with proposed biodiversity improvements would outweigh any adverse impacts on the 7th century heritage site and surrounding landscape.
She said: “The proposals create a new route that descends into the valley and then weaves up through Top Hat Wood.
“The change in levels will enable the visitor to appreciate more the dragging of the ship from the river up the valley to its final resting place.
“It is considered the new route will significantly enhance and enrich the visitor experience and understanding of the site’s significance, not just in terms of the archaeological experience but also in terms of experiencing the landscape of the estate and its wider context to the river, Woodbridge and beyond.”
The new route around the site will help visitors discover the journey travelled by King Raedwald is part of the plans, whilst Tranmer House, the former home of Edith Pretty who instigated the dig that would lead to the discoveries, will be transformed with new exhibitions, rooms for academic research and a timeline of the history of Sutton Hoo.
Telling the stories of the people who settled here will be at the heart of the new experience.
It was from the River Deben that the Anglo-Saxon ship was hauled up the valley before it formed the burial chamber found in Mound One, where the famous treasure was discovered by Suffolk archaeologist Basil Brown in 1939. Under the new plans, visitors will be able to follow in the footsteps of the final stages of that dramatic journey.
Allison added: “We’ve been working with Sutton Hoo’s teams of staff and volunteers, regular visitors and supporters, the local community and Heritage Lottery Fund to shape these plans.
“It is thanks to our supporters that we’re able to look after places like Sutton Hoo and together we’re creating an experience that will keep this place special for years to come.”