Rendlesham is more famous for UFOs than Anglo-Saxons. But steady work over recent years has seen the area around St Gregory’s Church and Naunton Hall rise through the rankings to become a nationally significant Anglo-Saxon site.
About twenty years ago, holes started being surreptitiously dug there at night. It got worse, and the place was presumably being looted by rogue detectorists. The Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service were notified and they became actively involved. They gained much assistance from ‘white hat’ detectorists working within the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
About 4 miles up the river from Woodbridge and Sutton Hoo, Rendlesham would have been the highest point vessels of a certain size would think to go. The changes to the navigability of the upper Deben have been argued about inconclusively for some time. The conventional wisdom is that things were much the same then as they are now. With no ballast, and no load, our ship will draw about 13 inches. The original ship would have struggled to make Rendlesham during a dry summer. But this would be no obstacle to foreign trade in small, high-value goods.
A royal country-seat existed at Rendlesham in the mid-7th century, according to Bede [Historia Eccesiastica, Book III, Chapter 22]. The settlement was functioning earlier than that, so it could well have been King Rædwald’s vicus regius too. The community supported a marketplace, metal working, and highly-skilled craftsmen producing decorative items.
None of the finds is so big it couldn’t fit into a matchbox, but the way that they have accumulated is impressive. The choicest items are on display at Ipswich Museum. They can only have been lost by VIPs.
Bede mentions that [around AD 604] Rædwald visited King Æthelberht of Kent. He returned as a baptised Christian, but there was local antipathy, and he did not follow through whole-heartedly. In his shrine he set up an altar to the Christian god, but next to it there was also a small altar to the pagan gods [Historia Ecclesiastica, Book II, Chapter 14.] Maybe that shrine was at Rendlesham.
Further information is well presented here, and the successive links.