How my father found a crucial clue to where Sutton Hoo ship was buried

Ivan Jacobs, 92, of Kesgrave.

Ivan Jacobs, 92, of Kesgrave, who at 11-years-old was there at the dig at Sutton Hoo as his father, John, was the second gardener for Mrs Pretty. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

As an 11-year-old boy in 1939, Ivan Jacobs had a first-hand view of the excavation of the Sutton Hoo treasure - and the new Netflix film The Dig has brought back all his memories of excitement of the summer of 1939.

His father was John Jacobs, the second gardener at Edith Pretty's Sutton Hoo estate - and he was part of the team led by local excavator/archaeologist Basil Brown, who first found the remains of the Anglo-Saxon funeral ship buried under one of the mounds on the estate.

John Jacobs discovered the metal rivet which gave the team the first indication that they were on the right track, as they worked on the site during the summer.

The British Museum has pictures of him and Mrs Pretty's gamekeeper, William Spooner, on the dig with Basil Brown.

Today, Ivan is 92-years-old and lives in Kesgrave - but he can still remember that summer clearly and found the film brought back many memories for him.

He said: "I often used to go down there with my father to see what was happening.

"I would stand at the side and watch what they were doing. All of Mrs Pretty's staff were told to take part in the dig - except Mr Lyon, the chauffeur, because she still needed to get about."

Most Read

Ivan remembers the excitement: "They were finding a lot of things there - and I remember when the experts came in and took things over.

"I thought the film was very good generally - it wasn't all completely as it was. I remember Mrs Pretty as being much older than she was in the film (Carey Mulligan who plays her is 35 and Mrs Pretty was 56 at the time of the discovery).

Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown in The Dig

Ivan Jacobs enjoyed the film The Dig, but felt Carey Mulligan was much younger than the real Mrs Pretty - and remembered the incident in the film when Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes, was buried alive in a landslip. - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS

"I thought Ralph Fiennes was good as Basil Brown. I remember the incident where he had to be pulled out because of the landslide." 

Once valuable treasure started to be dug up, Ivan remembers two policemen - PCs Grimsey and Ling - had to share the job of standing guard at the site overnight in case anyone tried any illegal digging.

After the excavations finished at the start of the Second World War, John Jacobs carried on working for Mrs Pretty until her death from a stroke in 1942 - and he remained at Sutton Hoo for many years after it was sold.

At one stage, the main house was used as accommodation for Women's Land Army workers on nearby farms.

John Jacobs died in 1983 at the age of 87.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus