Search for story of Sutton Hoo woman

RESEARCHERS are hoping to uncover the life story of the woman behind one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.Edith Pretty owned the land and instigated the dig that led to the unearthing of the historic treasures of Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge.

RESEARCHERS are hoping to uncover the life story of the woman behind one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Edith Pretty owned the land and instigated the dig that led to the unearthing of the historic treasures of Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge.

But surprisingly little is recorded of the life of the well-travelled, wealthy and well-educated woman without whom the mysterious mounds might have remained as a curiosity, or "tumuli", as they were described.

Mary Skelcher, of Hackney Road, Peasenhall, and Chris Durrant, of Aldecar Lane, Benhall Green, near Saxmundham, have teamed up with a view to publishing a biography of Mrs Pretty - if they can gather enough material.

Both work for the National Trust's Sutton Hoo centre and both have a keen interest in local history.

Mr Durrant is the author of a book about the Second World War American airfield in Leiston and a biography about Basil Brown, the Suffolk archaeologist who carried out the famous digs in 1939 before being brushed aside by the archaeological establishment once the true importance of the site began to be revealed.

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Mrs Pretty, who married late in life and became a mother at the age of 47, died in 1942 aged 59. In recognition of her gift of the treasure to the nation, she was offered the title of Dame of the British Empire, but turned it down.

Miss Skelcher said: "I think she's a very interesting character. The obvious thing is her extraordinary generosity in donating the finds to the British Museum. I think the inquest listed 52 separate items, most of which were gold or silver. The value would have been enormous."

Born into a wealthy northern industrial family towards the end of the 19th century, Mrs Pretty was educated at Roedean and after leaving school travelled widely - she was in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt at the same time as TE Lawrence. She bought the Sutton Hoo estate on marrying Frank Pretty, from Ipswich.

Miss Skelcher believed, although she has not got evidence to prove it, that Mrs Pretty may have bought the estate because of her interest in the mysterious mounds.

Mr Durrant added: "It's a story worth telling. I think she was a very big-hearted woman, despite being very much part of the establishment. It's a window into an era that's long gone."

Anyone with information on Edith Pretty and would like to share it with Mr Durrant and Miss Skelcher can e-mail them at cjdurrant@btinternet.com or at marysk@mikest.fsnet.co.uk, or write to them at The Cottage, Hackney Road, Peasenhall, IP17 2HS, or Honeypot Cottage, Aldecar Lane, Benhall Green, IP17 1HN.