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Joinery apprentices help build full-size replica of famous Sutton Hoo ship 

The wooden frame of the replica Anglo-Saxon ship in a boatyard in Woodbridge, Suffolk
The wooden frame of the replica Anglo-Saxon ship in a boatyard in Woodbridge, Suffolk | © National Trust Images/James Beck

Three of our joinery apprentices are honing their heritage craft skills in a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ project. They'll be working on building a full-size replica of the famous Anglo-Saxon ship unearthed at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

Discovered on the eve of the Second World War, the ship is thought to be the final resting place of King Rædwald, a 7th-century ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia.

The three apprentices will be undertaking a two-week placement with the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company, a Suffolk-based charity which is spearheading the ship’s recreation on the opposite side of the River Deben from Sutton Hoo.

Here they'll gain a greater understanding of the materials and building methods that would've been used by Anglo-Saxon shipbuilders, guided by a team of passionate volunteers and specialists.

The apprentice joiners will assist Project Manager Jacq Barnard, Master Shipwright Tim Kirk and the project team at the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company as they continue work on the £1.5m reconstruction of the Great Ship Burial, which was excavated at Sutton Hoo during the summer of 1939 by a team of archaeologists, including Basil Brown.

The team is currently fixing more than one hundred hand-split and crafted oak planks to the keel of the ship which has been designed and constructed by an experienced team of volunteer shipbuilders. The original clinker-built Sutton Hoo ship was around 27 metres long with around a 4-metre beam, made from green oak. The replica, like the original craft, is being built using wooden treenails and over 3,500 iron rivets to hold things together.

One of the three apprentices working on the replica says: 'I grew up in Cornwall with a lot of National Trust places around me. Being able to pay back into and keep [those skills] alive is a big interest.'

Another apprentice described the two-week placement as a 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity. 'We're learning traditional craft skills which will set us up for a lifetime of satisfying work,' he says. 'I've never done anything like this before.

Seeing the logs come in and very gently get cloven down into workable timber is quite something. Learning traditional skills from traditional craftspeople, whether they're joiners or engineers, [means] you're picking something up and applying it to your own trade.'

Apprentice joiner using traditional method to build a replica of the Sutton Hoo royal burial ship in Suffolk
Apprentice joiner using traditional method to build a replica of the Sutton Hoo royal burial ship in Suffolk | © National Trust Images/James Beck

Traditional methods of Anglo-Saxon ship building are being used on the project, including cutting and shaping the wood using a variety of axes, which is a new experience for some of the apprentices.

Project Manager Jacq Barnard says: 'The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company began construction work in 2019 following the completion of The Longshed, where we are based, in 2018.

'In the last few years, we have recruited over 120 volunteers who are using their different skills and experience to build, research, record, fundraise and share what we are doing.

'We are building the ship to learn how our ancestors would have built it and then to find out what it is capable of, once on the water. So far the ship has been funded by generous donations, including members of the public who have sponsored our "Fund a Fixing" campaign.'

Timber for the ship has been supplied by Suffolk landowners, as well as collected from local trees felled by storms, and the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company has also made sure there's a replanting scheme in place. Two trees that had reached the end of their life have been supplied by the National Trust’s Blickling Estate in Norfolk, and the team are experimenting with Scots Pine from Sutton Hoo to craft the long oars.

The completed boat is expected to be ready to launch in 2025, when sea trials will begin.


This apprenticeship programme was originally in partnership with the Hamish Ogston Foundation. However, given the severity of the allegations published in The Sunday Times, we've suspended our work with them.

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