Businesses urged to ‘stick an oar in’ to back ship build

Make Ship Happen launch

A raft of opportunities for businesses to back a unique shipbuild has launched with the chance to sponsor one of 84 oars.

Corporate benefactors are being sought by the team reconstructing the Saxon ship which was buried at Sutton Hoo for more than 13 centuries.

And the oars, which are being made to row the vessel once it is completed, are being offered up to business owners for £1,000 each in exchange for having their company name burnt into the wood.

Philip Leech, chairman and director of the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company, which is responsible for the build, said: “This is a hugely exciting project which will see archaeologists, historians, experts in shipbuilding and volunteers come together to raise a ghost ship.

“We hope there will be lots of companies out there who would like to ‘own’ part of this adventure and see their business name emblazoned on an oar. But it’s a limited number that can sponsor an oar so it will be first come first served.

The 90ft ship is being built in the Longshed, Woodbridge, leased by Woodbridge Riverside Trust.

The release of the oars is the second phase of a crowdfunder programme – Make Ship Happen – which hopes to raise £1 million towards the project.

Along with the oars, larger sponsorship packages are available including funding the keel, the planks and the stem and stern.

In August, more than 3,500 numbered metal rivets that will hold the ship together were offered to the public for £20 each.

Mr Leech said: “We have had such an incredible response from people wanting to be a part of this.

“Now we need big backers to put their oar in and help us move forward.”

The ship will be built over a two-year period by a number of volunteers who have been taught traditional building methods.

Once finished, it will be tested at sea with a full crew. If it looks possible, the team will erect a mast and see how well it sails.

Mr Leech added: “The build is a serious scientific endeavour and an example of experimental archaeology which is carried out by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures.

“This is done by employing a number of methods, techniques, analysis and approaches based upon archaeological source material – in this instance raising a ghost ship based on the indent left by the original vessel.

“Everything will be carefully recorded so we can learn from the construction.”

All that was left of the ship, buried beneath the sand of Sutton Hoo in the 7th century was an impression of the rotted-away ship’s timbers.

Plans for the shipbuild have been produced digitally from the measurements taken at the excavation back in 1939 which revealed an early medieval burial ground that included the grave of Raedwald, an Anglo-Saxon king.

To sponsor a rivet or an oar email

Sutton Hoo Ship links with Rendlesham finds

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.

Sutton Hoo Ship’s Co. ‘Make’s Ship Happen’

Make Ship Happen launch

7th August 2019 – Press Release

A national fundraising campaign is set to “Make Ship Happen” for a £1 million project to build a full-size reconstruction of the 7th century Sutton Hoo ship.

The scheme has been launched to pay for the venture, which will bring together archaeologists, historians, experts in construction and shipbuilding and many other skilled volunteers to reconstruct the mysterious ghost ship buried beneath the sand of Sutton Hoo across the River Deben from Woodbridge, Suffolk, for 13 centuries.

The first phase of the donation programme will allow people to sponsor one of more than 3,500 numbered metal rivets that will hold the ship together. It is hoped this will raise enough money to contract a master shipwright to oversee the build.

Different parts of the ship – the keel, the planks and the stem and stern – will then be offered up for sponsorship to pay for the rest of the build, which is likely to take about two years to complete.

Philip Leech, chairman and director of the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company, which is responsible for the build, said: “Back in 1939 an excavation of Sutton Hoo revealed an early medieval burial ground that included the grave of Raedwald, an Anglo-Saxon king.

“The impression of the rotted-away ship’s timbers in the trench of sand showed the ship to have been a mastless, clinker-built rowboat about 90ft long – an impressive 27 metres.

“In the burial site there were 41 items of solid gold now housed in the British Museum, but although the site has been thoroughly examined by historians and archaeologists for the last 90 years, nobody has ever attempted to rebuild the full-size ship to see exactly how it worked before it was buried with the King.

“This is precisely what we plan to do.

“The build is a serious scientific endeavour and an example of experimental archaeology which is carried out by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures.

“This is done by employing a number of methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches, based upon archaeological source material – in this instance raising a ghost ship based on the indent left by the original vessel.

“Everything will be carefully recorded so we can learn from the construction.”

The team will be using plans produced digitally from the measurements taken at the excavation. The first stage will be to complete a fifth size model before building the full size vessel.

The ship will be created using wood supplied by the Crown Estates and involve a number of volunteers who have been taught traditional building methods.

Once built, it will be tested at sea with a full crew of up to 40 rowers. If it looks possible, the team will erect a mast and see how well it sails.

Mr Leech said: “At the end of that time we will all know much more about Anglo-Saxon skills, trade and seamanship. And after the trials the ship will become a movable exhibition piece which is expected to be rowed and used for educational purposes worldwide.

“We cannot wait to watch this magnificent vessel slide down the slipway into the river, before making the maiden voyage. The beauty and dignity of this King’s ship, tied into a serious scientific programme to learn more about our past, makes for a magnificent and worthwhile spectacle.

“We hope as many people as possible get the chance to be part of making this project a reality.”

The ship will be built inside the Longshed on the site of the former Whisstocks boatyard in Woodbridge.

The workshop, which boasts a large mezzanine gallery that will host an exhibition about the project, is run by Woodbridge Riverside Trust (WRT) which is responsible for a half-length replica of the Sutton Hoo ship called Sae Wylfing.

Chairman of the WRT Bryan Knibbs said: ““We are very excited to officially get the fundraising off the ground and bring people together to Make Ship Happen.

“What this project hopes to do is give people a tangible link to the past and we need to get everyone involved – young and old – to make this a possibility.”

To sponsor one of the rivets for £20 or buy Make Ship Happen merchandise which helps fund the build visit



Holly mallets and nailing dollies for the Saxon Ship

In recent months Damian Goodburn has introduced us to working with a Holly Mallet which is made from the natural branch growth of a holly tree.

When making a Holly mallet the tree is chosen because of the way it grows. The thing to look for is where side branches appear in several places at the same point around the trunk. The turmoil caused from several branches growing from the same point creates a great deal of strength at that point.

Holly is a wonderful wood to work when fresh cut. It seasons to a very tough material and has often been used for rowing thole pins, a tradition often seen at  Mersea Island.

Cutting the trunk just above and below this knot region, retaining one side branch as a handle, produces a mallet. One tree will produce a whole set, of varying weights. David Pryer, a volunteer at the Sutton Hoo Ship’s company has just made a set of five Holly Hammers of varying sizes and weights. These will be used when splitting the oak needed for the many planks required.

The particular tree selected comes from an ancient nuttery which is shown on old maps, and could well date from the late 14th Century when hazel trees were grown to make the wattle and daub infill in our timber-framed house.

David has also made a nailing dolly out of another (seasoned) piece of holly, which will be used  when we come to nailing and riveting.

Sae Wylfing at the British Museum, London

On the 13th July, Sae Wylfing set off at five o’clock on Saturday morning for pride of place at the opening of the British Museum’s contribution to the Festival of Archaeology. Organised by the British Council of Archaeology, the festival runs from 13 to 28 July across the UK. An unintended detour via Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Road notwithstanding, we were well on track before 0800.

The crowds flocked to see the ship and our reenactors. Several Ship’s Company volunteers were on hand to talk about the larger ship and how the replica was being brought to reality in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

The video below captures the day and gives an idea of the crowds that formed.

Excitement in the Longshed as the Saxon Ship progresses

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?


Saxon Ship thinks about using a 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  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.

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