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Bringing Suffolk’s history to the people - how Sutton Hoo roadshow ‘has turned out to be gold’

The Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

The Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

If you can’t bring people in to see a piece of Suffolk’s history, you might as well bring the county’s heritage to the people.

That has very much been the thinking behind the popular Sutton Hoo roadshow, which almost by accident has allowed the National Trust site to turn its current closure to its advantage and reach even more people.

The scene of the country’s most significant Anglo-Saxon archaeological discoveries is currently being transformed as part of a major £4million project.

Designed to help even more people discover the wonders of the nation’s past, it will even include a 17-metre tall observation tower to give views over the entire burial ground, where King Raedwald was buried in his ship.

A full scale sculpture of the ship is also being created close to the visitors entrance and a new route around the site will allow visitors to walk in the steps of the Anglo-Saxons.

The Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOODThe Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

But even though the changes will be a huge boost to history lovers, they mean that the site will have to be closed for the best part of a year - meaning people cannot enjoy it in the meantime.

Instead, volunteers have been touring libraries and convenience stores with replicas of some of Sutton Hoo’s most famous artefacts - including the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet, buckle and shoulder clasp - to keep people’s interest in the area alive during the closure.

And Sally Metcalf, volunteer programme manager for the National Trust, said the roadshow had succeeded far beyond their expectations, because: “We’ve been reaching people who we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.

“It’s been the most fantastic opportunity. A situation that could have been quite difficult has turned out to be gold.

The Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOODThe Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

“We’ve been able to talk about the major project and exactly what we’re doing. We’ve been able to go out, take visuals with you and show people exactly what we’re doing.

“We’ve also been going to places where people haven’t even heard of Sutton Hoo, to be honest.”

The tour has been such a success that Mrs Metcalf said the National Trust may continue to hold events outside of Sutton Hoo even when the site is reopened.

The next locations for the tour are Brightlingsea East of England Co-op, from Tuesday, January 22 to Thursday, January 24, and Framlingham East of England Co-op between Tuesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 31.

The Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOODThe Sutton Hoo roadshow at the Leiston East of England Co-op. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

Each of those events is between 10.30am and 2.30pm

There is also an event at Lowestoft Library between 10.30am and 2.30pm on Saturday, January 26 and one at Southwold Library at 11am on Monday, January 28, which is a talk only.

The tour is due to continue until May.

Before the roadshow started, Sutton Hoo property operations manager Alison Girling said: “Closing the site for the work to take place is an essential, so we decided that if visitors can’t go to Sutton Hoo, then Sutton Hoo will go to them.

A computer-generated image of the viewing tower to be built at Sutton Hoo Picture: NISSEN RICHARDS STUDIOA computer-generated image of the viewing tower to be built at Sutton Hoo Picture: NISSEN RICHARDS STUDIO

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