• TTDA - Sutton Hoo - Treasure
  • TTDA - Sutton Hoo - Helmet

Buried Treasure of The Suffolk Coast

The shores of The Suffolk Coast have been the setting for many a' bounty over the years. From Anglo-Saxon helmets and coins to spoons, ingots and torcs - discover the treasure hauls that have been found here and the fascinating stories that go along with them...

Anglo-Saxon Treasure at Sutton Hoo

TTDA - Sutton Hoo - Helmet

The room is dark, almost completely black. Edith Pretty sits in the gloom and near silence with a spiritualist in London. It’s 1936 and Edith is a middle-aged widow seeking comfort from the occult.

Edith and her husband, Frank, lived at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk for just eight years when Frank died, leaving Edith to grow ever more curious about the land they had moved to as newly-weds. There had always been a certain folklore surrounding the patch of Suffolk heath-land but then Edith had a vision, a ghostly encounter and decided she needed help to excavate the land. That’s what can happen when you see an Anglo-Saxon procession pass through your property!

Edith approached Basil Brown, who worked at a Museum in Ipswich, and he began work in earnest. At first, the excavation yielded slim pickings but in 1939, the largest part of the project began to unearth more than anyone had expected. The blueprint of an eighty foot ship lay in the ground; the wooden fabric of the vessel rotting away some time ago had deposited the nails that once fixed the timbers in place and rusty stains on the compacted, surrounding earth from other metal fixings.

Inside the space, where the ship had once provided a royal tomb, preserved for Brown and his colleague, Charles Phillips (University of Cambridge) to find, remained a treasure trove of over 250 artefacts including coins, gold buckles, weaponry and silver cutlery but the real prize was a full face helmet. This one of a kind find, along with the other discovered objects confirmed to the team that they were looking at an Anglo-Saxon settlement at Sutton Hoo, previously believed to be Viking.

The spoils of Sutton Hoo were so splendid, so unprecedented that the work was carried out under police guard, around the clock. It was, after all the richest ship burial ever found in Northern Europe. And it keeps on giving! More recently, Byzantine objects have been excavated and the armour of a warrior who was buried alongside his battle horse. And there may be more discoveries to be had since only two thirds of the area has been investigated. 

The Orford Merman

Orford - Emily Fae Photography

In the twelfth century, fishermen haul in their nets to process their catch. The usual catch of herring, a few mackerel and a bearded man, covered only in hair! If the trauma of being caught in a fishing net and dragged from the North Sea didn’t turn this unknown man wild, the treatment he received next certainly would have.

He was taken, literally kicking and screaming to Orford Castle to be interrogated. His six month ordeal had started with offerings of raw meat and fish to tempt out his secrets but when his silence prevailed, torture became the weapon to get this Merman to talk. He did not! Even when dragged to Orford church to repent before God, the feral man had nothing to say at all, no tongue for language.

His captors, eager to know more of the Wild Man, allowed him access to his beloved sea. Penned in to a small area by reinforced netting, the Wild man took to swimming and proved that the nets were no match for him as he dived beneath them. Astonishingly, the Wild Man returned to be taken back to the castle. This practice continued for a spell until, one day, he dived beneath the nets in the harbour and was never seen to re-surface.

This telling of the story is not alone among many of the Man-Beast of Suffolk and the Wild-Man of Orford. Not surprisingly, then, that the figure is depicted in many ways, in many forms within Orford. Whether it be in village shops, Orford marketplace, pubs, the font at St. Bartholomew’s or even the castle itself, the story of the Wild Man is still popular nearly nine hundred years later.

And the recent discovery of an artefact bearing his image shows that it’s not just a recent trend. Metal detectorists working near Woodbridge in 2013 came across the piece, which would have initially formed the handle of a spoon, and asked the British Museum value it. The spoon would have originally belonged to someone wealthy some 500 years ago and has been declared as treasure.

Royal Gold at Rendlesham

Rendlesham - (c) Gill Moon Photography

We’re back in the seventh century, in an Anglo-Saxon palace that could be home to Raedwald – King of the East Anglians. Inside the palace we find coins, gold jewellery, a solid silver ingot and many more treasures. Or we may not find, since these items have already been discovered near Rendlesham and acquired by Ipswich Museum.

The pieces add to the story that this was a high-status site in Anglo-Saxon times and help to fill in parts of East Anglian history. And this was a very important time in the history of East Anglia. As Pagan traditions of northern Europe declined, King Raedwald was one of the first examples of an Angle king converting to Christianity as the new world stretched out ahead.

Raedwald is believed to have died in 624, coinciding with the origins of the ship tomb unearthed at Sutton Hoo, located a mere 4-5 miles from Rendelsham.

Excavated Torcs at Ipswich

The Ipswich Torcs - (c) The Trustees of the British Museum

Malcom Tricker is a young man, just 26. He’s lean and hard-working, and he sports the quiff that was typical of the early part of the decade. This is October 1968 and Malcom, who used to work in a scrap metal yard, is driving a digger for J Gerrard & Sons on the new Holcombe Crescent of the Chantry Estate in Ipswich. He deftly and expertly dips the bucket of his digger into the ground, creating a hole, when something shiny catches his eye. He jumps out of his steel machine and into the hole to retrieve two loops of metal. He taps them together to see if they make the sound of brass, they don’t! And besides, they’re too heavy to be brass. They’re more like… they’re gold!

At lunch time, he pops home to clean up the torcs (which is what they will soon be identified as) and without the dirt and earth that spoiled their finish, Malcom is impressed by the brilliance of them.

But Malcom isn’t greedy and he takes them to Ipswich Museum where he meets Elizabeth Owles who starts to fill in the details. Five torcs are found in total and Elizabeth’s investigations conclude that they date back to the Iron Age and may have been made from gold originating in Ireland. They are of such good condition that she doubts they were ever worn; instead they may have been hidden by the craftsman who made them. This was around the time of the Roman invasion and the fear that they may have been swept up and lost could have led to their burial.

So, what exactly are they? Well, Miss Owles explains that they’re the kind of piece that would have been worn around the neck of a tribal king or chieftan, either ornamentally or as a symbol of rank. The find is incredibly rare for such artefacts in Ipswich. The area would have been a battleground between two tribes; The Belgae tribe who occupied Essex and The Iceni who made their home in Norfolk and North Suffolk. In fact, Elizabeth sees a connection, “Queen Boadicea probably wore something like this”.

The Torcs were declared treasure in 1969, they were acquired by The British Museum and Malcom Tricker was awarded £45,000 for his discovery. 



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