Excitement in the Longshed

This might be a case of whatever turns you on, but we are about to start prepping the Longshed to receive the tree for the keel. This will mark the start of our re-creation of the Sutton Hoo ship later this year.

Whatever possible we try to reproduce what the Anglo-Saxons would have done but in a modern world this can be challenging so we are doing the best that we can.  They would have built outside, probably not doing too much in the short winter days.  We are blessed with our giant purpose built shed and can work all the year round.  They would have built on an earth foundation, we are less blessed in having a shiny, smooth concrete floor.  You might ask, ‘is that not better for boatbuilding?’ Well, actually not always.  First of all, it’s quite slippery for moving massive heavy logs around, and even more slippery if there are oak chippings everywhere – they are just like banana skins. Secondly, it’s very harmful to axes and other tools if you accidentally drop them on a hard surface. Our tools are being purpose built and will be one of our most precious possessions.

Our biggest problem is how to secure the keel as it mustn’t move around whilst we are working on it and we have to find a way of making sure it stays straight and doesn’t warp as time passes.  The Anglo-Saxon shipbuilders would have been able to drive a set of heavy poles into the ground as a foundation for a frame to fix the keel.  The Ship’s Company team have seen a similar approach at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark, where they build outdoors (in the Danish summer).

Remembering that this is experimental archaeology we need to experiment, so what is our solution?  We could cover the Longshed floor with a foot (30cm) or more of compacted soil but this is not realistic and wouldn’t be deep deep enough.  We could build a false floor of wood that can have heavy wooden scaffold screwed into it?  Thi is unaffordable and would take too long. We could screw large steel bolts into the concrete?  Well….we might have to, but the solution we are working on is a more traditional compromise.

Many boats are built on a set of wooden blocks about a couple of feet (60cm) deep.  You have to raise the keel (backbone of the ship) off the floor in order to work on the lower face of it and to drive rivets in from the underside through metal roves to fix any joints.  About a dozen blocks are placed between where the ribs will go later.  Think of old railway sleepers as a model, although we could use sections of tree.  A set of blocks this size is big and heavy enough to not require securing to the floor. But the key is to ensure that the top surface of these blocks are absolutely flat, using packing and a string-line.

Two people, working very hard could achieve this in two weeks.  Job done. Fancy giving us a hand? Or do you have any old railway sleepers lying around?


Woodbridge Regatta – Log Splitting

On Saturday 23rd June Woodbridge hosted their annual Regatta to celebrate all things connected to the river Deben. This was the perfect opportunity to invite Damian Goodburn to the Longshed to demonstrate how to split a large oak log using wedges, hammers and man power.

The piece of French Oak arrived from the Crown Estates earlier in the week and needed to be maneuvered into place so that the Crew could work on it.

A number of Ship’s Co Crew volunteers spent the day learning the trade and helping to reduce a single oak into half, quarters, eights and sixteenths.

Other volunteers helped to make rustic signs and spin wool ready for caulking the joints

To sign up as a volunteer email contact@saxonship.org

We don’t just need boat building skills, we also need administrators, legal skills, PR and social media, website editors, copy writers, sign writers, documenters and researchers to name but a few!

Total Station

Does your pulse quicken when you see those words?

Wikipedia describes a total station as “an electronic transit theodolite integrated with electronic distance measurement (EDM) to measure both vertical and horizontal angles and the slope distance from the instrument to a particular point, and an on-board computer to collect data and perform triangulation calculations.”

So it’s a clever beast, and a robotic one can be fixed somewhere inaccessible (like high up in the roof of the Longshed), and controlled remotely. It sounds just the job for recording and monitoring the dimensions of our ship as it gets built.

If you have any experience at all with total stations (or you know somebody who does), please get in touch via contact@saxonship.org.  Total stations are now widely used in civil engineering, and I would be very interested to talk through the issues with someone who has hands-on knowledge.

Using the natural grain of wood to gain maximum strength

The photographs below show a treenail fixing that was recently made at Roskilde, Denmark. The plank is made of riven oak and the treenail made from carved willow. Note the direction of the grain on the head of the treenail. On the other side, you can see that the slit for the wedge was cut in line with the grain of the treenail. The wedge, from seasoned oak, has a radial grain which runs at right-angles to that of the willow. The tip of the wedge was hammered to two-thirds of the way through the hole in the oak block.

treenail, also trenail, trennel, or trunnel, is a wooden peg, pin, or dowel used to fasten pieces of wood together, especially in timber frames, covered bridges, wooden shipbuilding and boat building. It is driven into a hole bored through two (or more) pieces of structural wood (mortise and tenon)

This short video shows a shipwright at Roskilde boring a hole through a plank.

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From ‘Tree to Sea’ with Damian Goodburn

On the 29th and 30th of April we had the pleasure of hosting Damian Goodburn for a two day workshop about identifying and working with timber ready to be used in ship and boat building so that our volunteers will be skilled up on the techniques that we believe where used on the original Anglo-Saxon ship.

This video shows the hard work required to change an length of oak into a usable plank. This one piece of wood was worked on by several men over the two days but was only partly finished at the end of it.

Training continues tin May with a trip to the Viking Museum at Roskilde in Denmark, whose craftsmen are also world leaders in restoring and recreating ancient wooden clinker built boats

The selection of photographs below show the different aspects of the two days. One lesson learned is that turning a tree into a plank is a slow and back breaking process but interesetly no one wanted to down tools so it is clearly a dormant skill that we are happy to bring back to life.

What sort of oaks should we use to build the Sutton Hoo Ship?

Whilst we do not know where the oak for the original ship came from – there were only a few traces left on the oxidised iron nails that fixed the planks together – we do know that the wood was still green. That means it was felled just before the build and was much easier to work. Tools would need to be sharpened less often.

Today we know that the oak from ancient trees is not suitable for planking up a clinker built boat.  We need younger but mature oak that is straight and true, with few knots or the likelihood of finding problems with “shake” in the grain when a tree is felled. Equally the keel for the Saxon Ship must be straight, with no twist in the grain. The curved frame timbers will come from pieces that might otherwise have been used for firewood because they are too curved for carpenters or furniture makers.
The best oak will come from sites where the trees are regularly harvested and re-planted, so that overall we are not taking anything away from future generations. That means that the timber selected for the project comes from sustainably managed woodlands where either, new oaks are planted for any used or existing naturally seeded young trees are protected to replace any used for the project..  This is because it is the right thing to do for the environment and the planet and therefore exactly what the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company will procure.

By Damian Goodburn PhD


A new phase for the Ship’s Co.

In October 2018 we invited experts from across the world to look at our research and preparations to help us finalise the Sutton Hoo Ship plans. This phase is now much closer to completion and the final papers are being worked on ready for publication after Easter.

Now in March 2019 as we move from the planning to the construction phase, we are delighted to know that we will have enough green oak to reconstruct King Raedwald’s seventh century ship.  Plans to move and store the oak from Windsor Great Park to Woodbridge are in hand but we are not underestimating the difficulty of the logistics – or the number of volunteers we will need to help turn beautiful trees into a beautiful ship.

As well as working with the National Trust and Woodbridge Riverside Trust we have new partners in the Oxford Institute for Digital Archaeology who, as well as supporting us financially are developing an ambitious programme of 3D printing, recording the project digitally, and developing educational tools.

Work is currently underway to recruit a Master Shipwright to turn the ships plans into a reality with, we hope, a large group of volunteers to support the project.

The first step will be to build two different types of models which will test the plans and allow us to experiment with techniques and internal fixings.

If you would like to volunteer or support us in any other way please contact us here

If you would like to apply for the Master Shipwright role, please go to – Link to Ship’s Co. Jobs

If you would like us to keep in touch with you, please sign up for the Ship’s Company Newsletter here – Link to Newsletter signup form


An Historic Milestone

As we advertise for a Master Shipwright we are one step closer to building this amazing reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship and one step closer to understanding more about our Anglo Saxon ancestors. The months and months of research to turn the historical records into a set of usable plans is coming to a close and laying the keel is now insight. This project will enrich the lives of historians and craftsmen who, like their ancestors, will be given the opportunity to work together turning raw materials into a unique and iconic ship. With the ship in our possession teams of rowers and sailors will be able to experience life on the water in the same way as the Anglo Saxons providing a greater insight into their way of life.

We will provide a comprehensible, informative and entertaining means of engaging the public, including involvement of people of all ages and abilities and increasing understanding and appreciation of Anglo-Saxon life and culture.  In order to maintain the integrity of the project it will be overseen by academic and shipbuilding experts, but work will be organised in a way that enables local people to engage in all stages, either through active participation in the build process or activities such as recording, interpretation or guiding. We will employ professional shipwrights for the critical parts of the build and we expect apprentices and students to benefit from working on it.  In order to gain maximum project benefits we are working with the National Trust and with our sister charity, Woodbridge Riverside Trust (WRT), who will be responsible for example, for guiding, exhibitions and talks.

The reconstruction that we will build will be a beautiful object, of impressive size and proportion, as well as having a serious scientific purpose, what more can we say…

The Ship’s Co. is looking for a Master Shipwright

Master Shipwright

We are looking to recruit a part time Master Shipwright who has experience of using green oak with a clinker style construction. For a better understanding of the role please download the Job Description below. To arrange an informal discussion please email contact@saxonship.org

The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company_Master Shipwright_Job Description

Application deadline: 31st March 2019

Tholier than thou

For hundreds of years either side of the Sutton Hoo ship, North Sea vessels had provision for oars all the way along, with no break in the middle.

Our ship has tholes to hook the oars onto. But no traces of them were ever found amidships. Ah, we say, that’s because the burial chamber was built there. They took the tholes off beforehand, and it’s even possible they re-used them. But in that case, others say, why did they find no traces of the thick, vertical, iron spikes that were holding them onto the gunwale? This is a drawing from a paper by Charles Phillips – the spikes go deep, and look impossible to pull out:

So were there ever any central tholes at all? In the Bayeux tapestry the English ships have no tholes amidships, while the Norman ships were tholed all the way along. So maybe our ship was the same, over 450 years beforehand.

This is an uncomfortable thought.  But maybe help is at hand. In the 1939 Science Museum tracing at Ipswich Museum, A S Crosley shows the tholes like this:

Separate the tholes into separate items the way Phillips did, as indicated by the red lines. Suddenly if looks as if each thole could have been demountable – provided that the holes where the spikes go through were a slightly loose fit.

The hooks of the tholes were midway between the thwarts, and would have been a nuisance when loading or unloading. So simply whip them off. Make the tholes one standard pattern so you wouldn’t need to remember where you took them from. Then they could be slapped on like pieces of Lego when you needed them again.

Before adding the burial chamber, such tholes would be easy to deal with, but you’d also need to remove the spikes. However, the way Crosley drew them they were not embedded nearly so deeply into the gunwale. You’d have plenty to aim at, hitting them from the side. Wrought iron is not likely to snap. The spikes should be easy to pull out, and their iron would be valued.

It’s bonkers. But how can you disprove it? The spikes outside the area of the burial chamber are only circumstantial evidence.

All the same, are there any volunteers to check their spacings in the photos in the British Museum?

Joe Startin