Building visitor facilities and an exhibition hall at Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo is a burial ground for the seventh-century kings of East Anglia, and is of international importance. Its partial excavation has revealed objects of exceptional interest and richness which have dramatically revised our understanding of the ‘Dark Ages’.
The site revealed buried treasure and great works of art which are now on display at the British Museum. Back in 1998, we formally took on the responsibility for the ancient burial site. We set to raising funds to invest in the site, to replace the temporary wooden hut with new purpose built, visitor facilities.
What we did and why we did it
Our aim was to make the story and academic research into Sutton Hoo, a site of exceptional archaeological importance, accessible to the public by creating a major new exhibition. This would help complement the display of objects at the British Museum and greatly increase the value of Sutton Hoo as a national heritage asset.
A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund helped us to provide appropriate facilities for visitors to Sutton Hoo, including landscaping, access roads, a car park, exhibition space, and on-site interpretation.
We wanted the new facilities to be suitable for a range of visitors, including educational parties, as well as being a model of access for people with different disabilities.
We constructed the new buildings out of view from the grave field site, so as to preserve its special atmosphere, but designed them so that they would be in harmony with their landscape setting.
What else did we do?
Education in its widest sense was one of our core responsibilities at Sutton Hoo.
With this in mind we designed the exhibition hall to contain three separate areas: an Audio Visual Theatre to set the scene and create an atmosphere for the rest of the visit; a Treasury Room for changing exhibitions, including the temporary display of the original artefacts from the site (normally displayed at the British Museum); and a main Exhibition Hall telling the story of the 1939 discovery of the treasure under Mound One and housing a replica burial ship in a sunken central space.
Why it was a success
We have received many complimentary comments about the site – ‘the best day I have had on a Trust property’, ‘the Eden Project of Suffolk, only better’. In the first year, the site received 200,000 visitors, 145,000 more than expected. This put the site in the top division of National Trust attractions.