Green light for Sutton Hoo transformation as National Trust is awarded £1.8 million National Lottery grant

Bold plans to take one of the UK’s most significant historical sites into the future are set to go ahead after the National Trust learnt it has been awarded a £1.8million National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help transform the way it tells the story of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

Home to the burial ground of the Anglo-Saxon King Raedwald, Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in Suffolk has been fascinating visitors from around the world ever since its hoard of treasure and royal secrets were discovered by a local archaeologist in 1939.

Now, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the National Trust can move ahead with plans to transform the experience of visitors and help them discover more about the people who settled here and those who went on to lead the archaeological digs that uncovered the world famous finds, including the Sutton Hoo helmet.

Sunset over the famous burial mounds at Sutton Hoo. ©National Trust Images_Justin Minns

The news of the successful grant bid follows two years of planning and the funds will go towards the total project cost of £4million.

Plans include building a 17 metre observation tower to give views over the entire burial ground and to the River Deben beyond, revealing the fascinating story of this evocative landscape. It was from the River Deben that an Anglo-Saxon ship was hauled up the valley before it formed the burial chamber found in Mound One, where the famous treasure was discovered by Suffolk archaeologist Basil Brown.

A new route around the site will allow visitors to walk in the steps of the Anglo-Saxons.  Tranmer House, the former home of Edith Pretty who instigated the dig that would lead to the discoveries, will be transformed with a new exhibition exploring a timeline of multiple discoveries and the ongoing research at this and other archaeological sites.

Enhanced guided tours, thought-provoking activities and installations, innovative interpretation and creative programming will all sit alongside a schools education programme.

In addition, partnership working with archaeological bodies, the British Museum and the local community will all help to bring both the landscape and Exhibition Hall to life.

The project, called ‘Releasing the Story of Sutton Hoo’, will enable the National Trust to create an experience that helps visitors discover more about this internationally significant site and how its stories have captured the imaginations of people the world over.

The dig at Sutton Hoo in 1939. ©British Museum

Allison Girling, Property Operations Manager at Sutton Hoo said: “We welcome visitors with a wide range of interests and knowledge to Sutton Hoo and these plans are all about sharing more about the history of this special place, helping visitors delve deeper into the lives of the Anglo-Saxons who settled here, the people who discovered them and to learn more about what it is that makes Sutton Hoo so fascinating.

“From why the Anglo-Saxons chose to bury their king here and how their lives and traditions have influenced English culture for generations, to how the determination of one remarkable woman led to the discoveries in the first place, there are so many stories to tell at Sutton Hoo and thanks to National Lottery players who make these grants possible, we’ll be able to move forward with our plans.”

Allison added: “We’ve been working with Sutton Hoo’s teams of staff and volunteers, regular visitors and supporters, the local community and the National Lottery to shape the future for Sutton Hoo and together we want to create an experience that really brings history to life whether you’re visiting for a family day out, to discover what’s on your doorstep or to support academic research.”

Replica of the richly decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet found at Sutton Hoo. ©National Trust Images_Andreas von Einsiedel

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund in the East of England said: “Sutton Hoo is an incredibly significant treasure trove of Anglo-Saxon heritage and it’s exciting that thanks to National Lottery players, this fascinating site will be transformed for visitors from near and far. This is a great opportunity to share this amazing place and put people of all ages at the heart of a story which spans 6,000 years.”

The Trust has also been given permission for plans to transform the welcome centre and car park.

The £4million project is being made possible thanks in part to support provided by members and visitors and the National Trust is aiming to raise a further £560,000 in order to complete the project.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2021.

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SQUARING THE CIRCLE: Archaeological detectives discover ‘secret square’ beneath world-famous Avebury stone circle

 

New archaeological surveys reveal unique square megalithic monument at the heart of the World Heritage Site

Archaeologists have found a striking and apparently unique square monument beneath the world famous Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, cared for by the National Trust, was built over several hundred years in the 3rd millennium BC and contains three stone circles – including the largest stone circle in Europe which is 330m across and originally comprised around 100 huge standing stones.

A research team led by the University of Leicester and University of Southampton used a combination of soil resistance survey and Ground-Penetrating Radar to investigate the stone circle.

Their work was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and supported by the National Trust, as well as archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and Allen Environmental Archaeology.

Dr Mark Gillings, Academic Director and Reader in Archaeology in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, said: “Our research has revealed previously unknown megaliths inside the world-famous Avebury stone circle. We have detected and mapped a series of prehistoric standing stones that were subsequently hidden and buried, along with the positions of others likely destroyed during the 17th and 18th centuries. Together, these reveal a striking and apparently unique square megalithic monument within the Avebury circles that has the potential to be one of the very earliest structures on this remarkable site.”

 

Radar in action: The Ground-Penetrating Radar survey underway (featuring Dom Barker & Kris Strutt of the University of Southampton).

 

Avebury has been subject of considerable archaeological interest since the 17th century. The discovery of new megaliths inside the monument was therefore a great surprise, pointing to the need for further archaeological investigations of this kind at the site. The survey took place inside the Southern Inner Circle, contained within the bank and ditch and colossal Outer Stone Circle of the Avebury henge. Excavations here by the archaeologist and marmalade magnate Alexander Keiller in 1939 demonstrated the existence of a curious angular setting of small standing stones set close to a single huge upright known since the 18th century as the Obelisk. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war left this feature only partially investigated.

Dr Joshua Pollard from the University of Southampton said: “Our careful programme of geophysical survey has finally completed the work begun by Keiller. It has shown the line of stones he identified was one side of a square of megaliths about 30m across and enclosing the Obelisk. Also visible are short lines of former standing stones radiating from this square and connecting with the Southern Inner Circle. Megalithic circles are well known from the time when Avebury was built during the late Neolithic (3rd millennium BC), but square megalithic settings of this scale and complexity are unheard of.”

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist at Avebury, said: “This discovery has been almost eighty years in the making but it’s been well worth waiting for. The completion of the work first started by Keiller in the 1930s has revealed an entirely new type of monument at the heart of the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, using techniques he never dreamt of.  And goes to show how much more is still to be revealed at Avebury if we ask the right questions.”

The archaeologists who undertook the work think the construction of the square megalithic setting might have commemorated and monumentalised the location of an early Neolithic house – perhaps part of a founding settlement – subsequently used as the centre point of the Southern Inner Circle. At the time of excavation in 1939 the house was erroneously considered by Keiller to be a medieval cart shed.

If proved correct, it may help understand the beginnings of the remarkable Avebury monument complex, and help explain why it was built where it was.

The research team is currently compiling their research into a paper for academic publishing.