The Anglo-Saxon treasures of Sutton Hoo

Sutton Hoo is synonymous with the Anglo-Saxon burial site in Suffolk, England. Now a National Trust site, Sutton Hoo provided an unparalleled haul of Anglo-Saxon treasures during archaeological excavations.

A long ship, 27 metres in length, plus a host of ornately crafted treasures were unearthed from the site by archaeologist Basil Brown after the landowner, Edith Pretty, asked him to excavate her land in 1939.

Novels by Pauline M Sabin Moore

Pauline M Sabin Moore is a volunteer guide at the historic site. She has written the novels Storm Frost and Brightfire, set during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Brightfire is a sequel to Storm Frost” explains Sabin Moore. “The first is rooted in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poetry, and the second builds on that, using what history of the early 7th Century we know from the Venerable Bede. Both are historical fiction.”

“I hope they bring to life the life, customs, beliefs and behaviour of people in the early 7th century, telling a lively story, which includes the tale of the great, historic High King Raedwald. On the site we do try to show people their phenomenal craftsmanship, which includes jewellery and sword-making, their language and contribution to our heritage. I believe the books reinforce this,” she says.

“I loved creating the character of Niartha, my heroine,” says the author. Niartha is “courageous, self-reliant and resilient in the face of extreme hardship and danger… their world esteems powerful women.” Adding that not all of those powerful women were necessarily queens.

“I also enjoyed building the evil character, Eorpwald – who gets a couple of sentences in Bede… very tantalising, but enough to strike a spark,” adds Sabin Moore.

The National Trust’s Sutton Hoo site

“Guides at the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo are trained by the Sutton Hoo Society. We offer the guided tours to the burial mounds, to bring to life the archaeology found over the years, and to share the exciting story of the discovery in 1939 of the great treasure ship, on the property of Mrs Edith Pretty, who generously gave the treasure to the nation in the care of the British Museum,” explains Sabin Moore.

The rarity of Anglo-Saxon era finds is a factor that makes Sutton Hoo all the more remarkable.

“Only three Anglo-Saxon ships have been found in the United Kingdom and all were located in or near Sutton Hoo,” says the author, who describes the site as “potentially as exciting as Stonehenge.”

The author counts the “mysterious peacefulness of the burial mounds site” and a visit to the exhibition hall “for colourful information” among the highlights of a visit to Sutton Hoo. She also recommends talking time to explore the woodland around the site, “especially in bluebell time.” Bluebells normally flower from late April into May.

Discovering the Anglo-Saxon world

“Apart from historical and archaeological works, there are not many novels about this early period: but look up Carla Nayland (Paths of Exile) and Kevin Andrew (The Rune of Ing). Anglo-Saxon Books publish a lot of good works, including many by the excellent Stephen Pollington, whose scholarship is to be trusted. See the superb modern version of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney, the great poet,” answers Sabin Moore when I ask which books she recommends for further insights into the Anglo-Saxon period.

What would be the main differences between life then and now?

“Some differences are obvious, like our technology, literacy and comfortable living…but we are still the same kind of human beings, with emotions, loyalties, prejudices, skill and courage,” answers the author, who is currently looking for a UK-based publisher and mulling on ideas for a novel set during the 5th century.

Brightfire: A Tale of Sutton Hoo

The novel Brightfire: A Tale of Sutton Hoo (RRP £7.99) by Pauline M Sabin Moore is set during the seventh century, and based mainly around Sutton Hoo. It tells a tale of rivalry and jealousy in Anglo-Saxon society.

Visiting Sutton Hoo

The 255-acre Sutton Hoo estate is operated by the National Trust. It hosts burial mounds and has an informative exhibition about the site. Visitors can see an original royal sword and enter the house where Edith Pretty lived. Food and drink is available at the King’s River Café.

Adult entry to the site costs £8.20 (2016 price). See the National Trust website for up-to-date admission prices and opening times.

The closest railway station is at Melton, about 20 minutes’ walk away. Buses from Ipswich to Framlingham pass Sutton Hoo.

Nearby sites of Anglo-Saxon interest

Mildenhall Museum, near Bury St Edmonds, and West Stow, which hosts a recreated Anglo-Saxon village, are within easy driving distance of Sutton Hoo.

Anglo-Saxon finds in the British Museum

The treasury room at Sutton Hoo holds carefully crafted replicas of the jewellery and famous helmet found at the burial site. The original Anglo-Saxon relics discovered at Sutton Hoo are displayed at the British Museum in London.

The museum is Great Russell Street and open daily from 10.00-17.30, with extended opening, until 20.30, on Fridays.

Map showing Sutton Hoo and the British Museum.
Map showing Sutton Hoo and the British Museum.

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