The National Trust-run site of Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, has reopened to the public after a £4m renovation.
It is the largest ever investment in the Anglo-Saxon heritage site, which has been run by the trust since 1998. The year-long project included a grant of £1.8m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
First excavated in 1939 on the eve of the second world war, the site comprises the seventh century royal ship burial of Anglo-Saxon King Rædwald. Its displays had been neglected for years prior to the renovation.
As part of the project, Tranmer House, a 1930s former residential property on the site, has opened to the public for the first time. The property was the home of Edith Pretty, who commissioned the original excavation. It now houses in-depth displays about the archaeological dig and ongoing research.
The redevelopment has also seen the creation of a new walking route out to the burial mounds, and reinterpretion of the displays around Anglo-Saxon culture.
In the newly reinterpreted exhibition hall, human stories surrounding the burial of the king are told alongside ornate reconstructions of the objects on display – including the iconic helmet of King Rædwald. The original excavated objects remain on display in Room 41 at the British Museum in London
This autumn, a viewing tower will be built next to the burial mounds so that visitors can get a better understanding of the site from above, an aspect that has been missing from the visitor experience at Sutton Hoo to date.
The royal burial at Sutton Hoo revolutionised historians’ understanding of the seventh century and revealed that a time previously seen as dark and insular was in fact cultured and vibrant.
Laura Howarth, the archaeology and engagement manager at Sutton Hoo, said: “It is impossible to overstate the level of excitement that surrounded the discovery of the king’s ship burial in 1939. Nothing of this scale had ever been unearthed in this country before and in a short period of time, this and subsequent excavations have transformed our understanding of the Anglo-Saxons and their world.
“The significance of the Anglo-Saxons at Sutton Hoo continues to resonate today through our language, law, culture and connections to the landscape. We wanted to create an experience which really does justice to this incredibly important heritage site and we hope our transformation will fire the imaginations of our visitors and help them to feel a part of this story.”
John Orna-Ornstein, the director of culture and engagement at the National Trust, said: “I am delighted that the experience of visiting Sutton Hoo, one of the oldest and most significant historic sites in this country, has been transformed to offer ways for visitors to connect more deeply with its history and significance.”