December has often been a short month in the Longshed, but this year it has been marked by two significant events.
Firstly, we took delivery of four large logs from National Trust at Blickling Hall (near Aylsham in Norfolk). Volunteer Richard Symes and I first visited this woodland in November of last year. It has been well worth the wait to take delivery as these magnificent trees. One, in particular, is over 1.2m (four feet) in diameter at chest height and has a usable length of some 8m (26 feet).
Whilst it is thought that the longest planks in the ship were around 5.5m (18 feet) in length, in order not to waste any of this very special resource it was cut into two, four metre (13 feet) lengths. One section was delivered into the Longshed with a longer, but slightly smaller diameter log, whilst the other section – again with a longer log – was delivered to the National Trust site at Sutton Hoo.
It is planned that the cleaving and conversion of planking from these two logs will take place as a display for visitors to Sutton Hoo next Spring and through the Summer in order to develop and promote the links between the two sites. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the National Trust at Blickling Hall for their very kind donation of these trees.
We also took delivery of four Scot’s Pine trees, this time kindly donated by the National Trust at Sutton Hoo, which will be used experimentally to make oars. Scot’s Pine would have been one of the few useful native softwoods available to the Anglo-Saxons; whilst the branch patterns might have made oars from this material too brittle, they would be significantly lighter than oars made from hardwoods such as Oak or Ash. The experimental oars that we make from these logs may shed some light on the material used in the 7th century.
Secondly, we reached the significant milestone of fastening up the first plank of the ship to the backbone.
This was done under the watchful gaze of the general public and three film crews, one being our own volunteer Andy Mills, another from Anglia Television and the last being our regular ‘Time Team’ crew. The footage taken by ITV was shown on the early and late evening news on 21 December.
Ideally, we would have started to plank from the stern of the ship in order that the scarf on the end of each new section sits neatly on top of the previous section. This is particularly useful given that each section is caulked with woollen cloth and there is the necessity to keep this caulking smooth, particularly at the scarfs. However, because of the need to allow the new stern underloute section to season before attaching planking to it (see November 2022 update), we have taken the decision to start planking – at least for the first two strakes – at the forward end of the ship. Here we already have six or seven sections of planking made and ready to nail up so we will be able to carry on nailing up sections of planking in the New Year. It is hoped that we can convert, fit, and nail up at least two pieces of planking per week. If we achieve this, we will see the ship fully planked by this time next year.
All of this work has been made possible by our wonderful volunteers – boatbuilders, researchers, recorders, Crew Mates (Front of House, welcoming visitors), marketing and merchandising, and all the other specialities needed to make our organisation work. Of course, we are also very grateful to the organisations and individuals who have very generously sponsored parts of the ship and made donations to our charitable trust. To all of you, we say a very grateful ‘Thank You’ and wish you all a very Happy and peaceful Christmas.
Tim Kirk, Master Shipwright.