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Discovery was as dramatic as the burial

PUBLISHED: 09:00 19 November 2015

New photos from the Sutton Hoo excavations in 1939 have been unearthed. Basil Brown (Back) Charles Philips (left) and Barbara Wagstaff at work

EADT 20.11.10

New photos from the Sutton Hoo excavations in 1939 have been unearthed. Basil Brown (Back) Charles Philips (left) and Barbara Wagstaff at work EADT 20.11.10

Archant

The history of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo site is almost as dramatic as the events surrounding the king's burial - but is infinitely better-recorded, largely thanks to the EADT.

It had been known for hundreds of years that something was buried at Sutton Hoo. There is evidence that 17th century graverobbers had tried to find treasure – and may have missed the riches by only a few inches.

However it was in 1939 with the clouds of war gathering over Europe that Mrs Edith Pretty called in Ipswich Museum archaeologist Basil Brown to examine the mounds on her land overlooking the River Deben and Woodbridge.

She was interested in spiritualism and was convinced that spirits were leading her to the mysterious mounds on her land.

The unearthing of the burial boat was undertaken in great secrecy, but rumours were heard by Charles Phillips from Cambridge University who took over responsibility for the dig.

There was tension between Mr Brown, a self-taught Suffolk man, and Mr Phillips who brought a team of eminent Cambridge scholars to continue with the dig.

Recordings of the two men giving different accounts of the discovery can be heard in the exhibition centre.

In an attempt to ensure the Suffolk story was told, Mrs Pretty and the Ipswich Museum authorities told the story to EADT reporter Alfred “Bow” Bowden who produced the world exclusive working with the paper’s editor Ralph Wilson and a small team who could be trusted with the secret.

The news of the discovery was a tonic for the country during the build-up to the Second World War, but once the conflict started work ceased and the ship was re-covered.

An inquest decided that the items buried – including the Saxon helmet – were Treasure Trove, and Mrs Pretty bequeathed them to the British Museum.

It was only in the 1960s that archaeologists returned to the site to complete the work. Basil Brown was still alive and further important discoveries were made.

The whole site was eventually given to the National Trust in 1998 and in 2002 the visitor centre and exhibition centre were opened.

The Edwardian Tranmer House was opened to the public in 2010 – complete with a recreation of Basil Brown’s shed from which he masterminded the initial dig at Sutton Hoo.

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