Sutton Hoo treasures unveiled

IT has been a long and a painstaking labour of love.For month upon month, hour after hour, they have worked themselves weary and perfected the very last detail – they have helped to write the very latest chapter in a most remarkable tale of Suffolk heritage.

By Debbie Watson

IT has been a long and a painstaking labour of love.

For month upon month, hour after hour, they have worked themselves weary and perfected the very last detail – they have helped to write the very latest chapter in a most remarkable tale of Suffolk heritage.

Sutton Hoo's long-awaited visitor centre has finally been unveiled.

And this, for the dozens of passionate archaeologists, historians and restorers, is their ultimate recognition in a project which had surely become their greatest of creative loves.

This is their chance to sit back and revel in the completion of an utterly impressive historic reference; their chance to proudly acknowledge what a great part they have played in the revelations of our county's treasure.

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Curiously, Sutton Hoo has, against all the odds, sat relatively unappreciated for several long decades.

Perched high above the town of Woodbridge, overlooking a restful expanse of the River Deben, it has been realised only in the shape of a few obscure mounds.

It has seemingly been restrained from telling its own incredible story; from revealing what is essentially one of Suffolk's – and the world's – greatest ever insights into the Anglo Saxon age.

It was back in 1937 that Sutton Hoo very first started to arouse just a small part of the attention it so deserved.

At the time, in the grounds of a large white Edwardian mansion, it captured the imagination of a Suffolk widow, Mrs Edith Pretty.

As legend has it, Mrs Pretty had always been intently bemused by the series of great mounds she could clearly see from her own bedroom window. It was then that she instigated a preliminary investigation of the site with the aid of a handful of Suffolk labourers.

And, whether or not this curious widow had ever expected such great finds to be made beneath the mounds, she must surely have been astounded to have seen the huge reams of treasures which were eventually unearthed within just yards of her home.

Indeed, the thorough excavation of the site in 1939 is still very much celebrated by historians, simply because its efforts collated such an incredible and extravagant pool of ancient relics.

Today, those relics are going to have their say at last.

Today they are ready and waiting; poised for the observation and intrigue of the world.

Having spent so many long years tucked beneath the Suffolk land, and then carefully held for museum viewing, those Sutton Hoo findings have finally come home to rest.

In fact, by all accounts, the visitor centre is a perfect stage for these relics in many respects.

Not only does it bring the jewels, gems, weaponry and clothing of the Anglo Saxon burial back into the grounds of its original resting place, it also heaps deserved respect and understanding on a relatively un-told story.

For many years, Sutton Hoo's visitors have surely left its site in disappointment.

Very little could be seen by those curious enough to make a visit, and – hardly surprisingly – the site has fallen short on the attendance it might have had.

But now the tide is changing.

The new site is everything historians could have wanted it to be.

Built in sympathy to the story, and respectfully collating many of the original artefacts, it offers an inspirational tale of an unrivalled British find.

Together with a vast array of treasures, visitors can now expect to appreciate a fully reconstructed burial chamber, films and pictures capturing the excavation, a restaurant as well as an exhibition centre, and also walks through the entire site itself.

Over and above this, The National Trust has also created an impressive facility from Tranmer House (the home of the late Mrs Pretty).

Here, groups and schools will be able to benefit from a carefully designed educational centre, and sympathetically-created holiday apartments will also be available for use.

In all, the new centre has come at the cost of around £5 million – but it's surely a price worth paying.

It is clearly the one real chance that Suffolk has for acknowledging this great historic chapter, and for the world to acknowledge it with us.


nSutton Hoo's new centre opens to the public today > and will be open from Wednesday to Friday, 10am until 5pm until May 31 and during bank holidays. From 1 June the centre will be open daily until the end of the summer. Admission is £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children.

nSutton Hoo's visitor centre has clearly been the subject of some controversy throughout its development stages.

The biggest problem occurred late on, with doubts generated over the access rights of visitors.

It was though that the opening may have subsequently been stalled, but seemingly all issues have now been overcome.

nAlthough the National Trust first began its transformation plans some five years ago, the process has had to be very slow and sympathetic

Numerous builders, architects and historians have worked on the project to ensure that the final centre did not appear to undermine the genuine historic significance of Sutton Hoo.

nThe Visitor Centre may not be the last main development to affect the site itself. The National Trust has now applied for permission to re-launch a ferry service from Woodbridge Tide Mill to the burial ground. Essentially, it could help take a greater number of tourists to the grounds in peak months.

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