Photos of original 1939 Sutton Hoo dig go on show

One of the original photographs taken by Barbara Wagstagg during the 1939 dig
The images, taken in August 1939, show the excavation in progress [National Trust]

Original photographs taken of the 1939 excavation of an immense ship have gone on display at the site.

The Anglo-Saxon treasures unearthed at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge in Suffolk, have been described as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

The ghostly imprint of the burial longship, whose timber had rotted away in the acidic sand, can be seen in some of the images, taken by schoolmistresses and best friends Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff.

The pair had visited Sutton Hoo in August 1939 while the Great Ship Burial was being excavated.

Sutton Hoo is thought to be the final resting place of King Raedwald who ruled in the 7th Century.

An original photo of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo
The Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo is believed to have been the resting site of King Raedwald [Mercie Lack/National Trust/PA Wire]

Eleven of their photographs are now on display in Tranmer House at Sutton Hoo, the home of landowner Edith Pretty, who instigated the dig in her grounds leading to the 1939 discovery.

Ms Lack and Ms Wagstaff took more than 400 photographs, around 60% of the total number of the recorded contemporary negatives from the excavation.

Between 2018 and 2023, the collection of photographs was conserved, catalogued and digitised to preserve it for the future and ensure public access.

close up of rivets on Sutton Hoo ship
One of the 1939 images showing the detail of the Anglo-Saxon ship excavated at Sutton Hoo [Barbara Wagstaff/National Trust/PA Wire]
Sutton Hoo
One of the most recognisable exhibits at Sutton Hoo, a replica of the helmet believed to have been worn by King Raedwald of East Anglia [PA Media]

Jack Clark, the National Trust’s collections and house officer at Sutton Hoo, said he was “proud to be displaying original Lack and Wagstaff prints at Tranmer House for the first time".

He said the original photographs would be displayed until 3 June, when they would be swapped out for replicas and digital versions.

“At Sutton Hoo we only display original photographs for short periods of time, and only then after advice from expert conservators,” he said.

“Though the drawing room in Tranmer House is free from UV light, photographs can still be damaged by visible light (LUX), but the biggest consideration for this display was temperature, as high temperatures can be particularly damaging.

“While we can manage light exposure and relative humidity, temperature can’t be managed as effectively, which means we need to take extra precautions."

As well as the images being displayed at Tranmer House, a photograph by Ms Lack showing the excavation and a black and white contact print by Ms Wagstaff will feature in the National Trust’s new book, 100 Photographs from the Collections of the National Trust.

Visitors can explore the digitised collection in the dining room of Tranmer House, or view it online.

The sculpture of the Great Ship Burial in the courtyard at Sutton Hoo
A sculpture of the Great Ship Burial was created and placed at Sutton Hoo [National Trust]

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