Sutton Hoo's 'ghost ship' featured in The Dig could soon be ready to take to the water once more

  • Watch a report by Victoria Lampard for ITV News Anglia

A replica of the 7th-century "ghost ship" discovered at an Anglo-Saxon burial site could be on course for its maiden voyage in two years.

The ship found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk - which featured in the Netflix hit The Dig - is the inspiration for the project, which has brought together a team of volunteers and master craftsmen.

The timbers from the original ship - thought to be the tomb of the Anglo-Saxon King Raedwald - had rotted away over more than 1,300 years before being found in 1939, leaving a ghostly imprint of the vessel in the ground.

The new project is an attempt to work out what it would have looked like in its day.

The plans for the project have been put together with data from the two excavations of the site at Sutton Hoo and, where possible, the team is using traditional tools and methods.

Work on the ship is being done wherever possible using traditional methods and tools. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Tim Kirk, master shipwright of Sutton Hoo Ship's Company, said the team was learning from the techniques used by their Anglo-Saxon predecessors.

"Because it's an experimental archaeology project there are benefits from using the original tools," he said - though he admitted there were also drawbacks.

"The benefits are, for instance, in cleaving timber rather than sawing timber out of the log, we get additional strength in the planking itself. We also get to understand how the shipwrights of the day worked with the trees, with the grains of the trees."

The final piece of the backbone has now been installed at the Longshed in Woodbridge as the ship takes shape. Next, the planking will begin.

When finished, the team behind the project hope to find out more about what the ship would have been used for by the Anglo Saxons.

The backbone has just been installed, and planking will begin next Credit: ITV News Anglia

Project manager Jacq Barnard said she hoped that finally getting the boat on the water would help the team understand why it was so important.

"The king was actually buried in it," she said. "So how did it handle? What could it have been used for? 

"We'll be taking on a number of expeditions to places where King Raedwald was known to have gone in his lifetime."

She added: "I will hopefully have the privilege of coxing this boat so I will be sitting right at one far end and imagining, watching across the bow. It's just incredible - a really lovely thing to happen in Woodbridge."

Volunteer David Turner said to see history coming to life was "brilliant".

"I couldn't believe it standing up there and looking back down," he added. "It's magnificent."

Treewright Alec Newland explained he had been impressed at the skills used to build the original ship.

"Mostly [it's] the incredible level of skill that the Saxons had, to be able to build things like this. They didn't have things like plans or frames so most of it was probably done by eye," he said.

Ralph Fiennes starred in The Dig, which drove up visitor numbers at Sutton Hoo Credit: Netflix

The project builds upon renewed interest in the site and the period, following the release of The Dig. It told the story of the ship's discovery at Sutton Hoo in 1939 and starred Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan and Lily James, and has driven up visitor numbers.

Support for the project is widespread, with trees being donated by Suffolk farmers and volunteers from across Europe coming to help research, document and help build the ship.

As the count down to launch begins, scheduled for spring 2024, the project will need people to row the ship too.

It is likely the project team will need a big pool of rowers - possibly more than 50 - once she gets on the water.

There are also plans to form a rowing club to start training ahead of the launch.