Reviving History: The Sutton Hoo Ship Project

Reviving History: The Sutton Hoo Ship Project

22 February 2024

Level 2 architectural joinery apprentice Matt Lee received a “once in a lifetime” work placement opportunity to recreate an Anglo-Saxon ship. Throughout the project, building methods and materials used by our early ancestors were employed, providing him with a unique insight into ancient craftsmanship.

Discovered in 1939 at Sutton Hoo, this ship was the tomb of an Anglo-Saxon ruler called King Rædwald, who was buried around 1,300 years ago. Stretching an impressive 27 meters in length, its excavation revealed a trove of treasures. Items found include an iron warrior helmet, a magnificent sword, Byzantine silverware, gold jewellery, a whalebone casket, and a feasting set.

Despite the centuries that had passed, the ship’s iron rivets remained intact, providing valuable clues about the ship’s construction. Like the original craft, a replica is being built using wooden treenails and over 3,500 iron rivets used to hold the vessel together. One hundred handcrafted oak planks are being fixed onto the ship’s keel, a flat blade facing down in water that provides ballast.

Matt and two fellow National Trust apprentices assisted Project Manager Jacq Barnard, Master Shipwright Tim Kirk, and the project team in a two-week placement last August. Here, they helped construct the ship using key heritage methods, which involved cutting and shaping wood with a variety of axes.

Speaking about his recent experience, Matt said: “Being part of this project has been an incredible journey for me and one that I will never forget. Working with ancient techniques and materials has helped me appreciate the craftsmanship behind building such a magnificent vessel, given the limited resources available at that time.”

Project Manager Jacq Barnard said: “The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company began construction work in 2019 following the completion of The Longshed, where we are based, in 2018.

In the last few years, we have recruited over 120 volunteers who are using their different skills and experience to build, research, record, fundraise and share what we are doing.

We are building the ship to learn how our ancestors would have built it and then to find out what it is capable of, once on the water. So far, the ship has been funded by generous donations, including members of the public who have sponsored our “Fund a Fixing” campaign.”

Sea trials are scheduled to commence in 2025, when the completed ship will set sail for the first time.

Find out more about apprenticeship opportunities available at North Notts College.

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