Tranmer House at Sutton Hoo
Discover more about the people behind the archaeological investigations at Sutton Hoo and the history of archaeology, from the 1930s to the present day.
Where the story begins
As you walk through the wood panelled rooms of Tranmer House, you will find yourself in 1939, the year that Sutton Hoo’s Great Ship Burial was first discovered.
Through audio and visual exhibits, you’ll meet the inspiring characters in our story and learn about how being in the right place at the right time, and making the right decisions, led them to one of the most important investigations in world history.
Move around the room and step into significant moments in the lives of the people involved in the subsequent discoveries, during what was to be a remarkable year at Sutton Hoo.
A glance to your left and there’s Basil Brown, deep in thought as he carries out the biggest archaeological investigation of his life, against the backdrop of impending war.
“I have today been filling in the ship with bracken etc. and hope it may remain alright. Then if war does not last too long, it may come out all right for people to see. If not, it must take its chance.” Basil Brown
To the right, you’ll see Edith Pretty, and get a sense of her intellectual and public-spirited nature from records of her work and global travels. You’ll learn of her time as one of the first woman magistrates and her involvement in archaeological digs in Egypt.
Keep an eye out for a variety of objects and displays, together painting a rich picture of the investigations of 1939. Even the smallest items - such as the first iron rivet found by Basil - have big stories to tell.
Filled with photos, films and projections, we invite you to marvel at the legacy of two amateur photographers, Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack, who found themselves with the important role of documenting the events of 1939.
These talented ladies had an ‘access all areas’ pass to one of the most significant archaeological digs of all time and, following the destruction of artefacts during the war, can be credited with a major part of the visual record of the Great Ship Burial being revealed.
In amongst over 400 colour and black and white images of the excavation taking place, these talented photographers also captured a little of the social history of the time. Their candid accounts of archaeologists, assistants and visitors to the site will give you a glimpse of 1930s clothes and customs. To this day it remains one of the most important photographic archives held by the National Trust.
A glance through the large bay windows overlooking the Royal Burial Ground will whisk you back in time, to the very moment that Edith Pretty had the initial stirrings of curiosity. What lay beneath the mysterious mounds on her estate?
Immerse yourself in audio recordings by people who have been involved in the archaeology of Sutton Hoo including Professor Martin Carver, who directed the 1980s excavation campaign and Angus Wainwright, National Trust Archaeologist.
Explore the Curiosity Cabinet to feel some real-life archaeological finds and have a go at archaeological recording with the planning frame activity.
Once you’ve learned all about the discovery of 1939, why not go further back in time and head to the valley to walk the route that the Anglo-Saxons would have taken from the river to the Royal Burial Grounds in 625AD as they laid their king to rest?
The White House on the Hoo
Built in 1910, Tranmer House was originally known as Sutton Hoo House and was designed by John Corder, a local architect from Ipswich and built for artist and gentleman of independent means John Chadwick Lomax.
After their marriage, Mrs Edith Pretty and Lt Colonel Frank Pretty chose to make this house their home. In 1926, they paid £15,250 for this wonderful country house, which in today’s money would be around £500,000.
When Edith passed away in 1942, the house passed to their only son, Robert Pretty. He was only 12 at the time and moved to live with his aunt in Hampshire. He would never return to live in Tranmer House himself.
The house instead moved fulltime into the ownership of the War Office, already having provided a home to the Land Army girls – who quite literally left their mark on the house. If you look carefully, you can still see the graffiti they carved into the stone fireplace and the ring of tiny holes in the wooden wall panelling, around where their dartboard would have hung.
The estate was later sold off, leaving the Pretty family’s ownership, bought first by the Bartons - known for their prize-winning Friesian cow herd - and then by the Tranmers. In 1998, after Annie Tranmer’s death, the trustees of the Annie Tranmer Trust kindly donated the house and estate to the National Trust and Sutton Hoo House became Tranmer House, renamed in her honour.
Initially, Tranmer House was only open to visitors via pre-booked tours, but in 2010 the decision was made to change this, opening up several of the downstairs rooms.
With wood-panelled interiors, a marble fireplace and views across to the famous burial ground, Tranmer House is the perfect place to discover the story of the 1930s archaeological digs.
Did you know?
• Part of the house was once demolished to save on heating bills
• Where Kings River Café now stands, there used to be a sunken rose garden instead
• You can rent a holiday apartment at the house and live just like Edith Pretty