A project to recreate an Anglo Saxon longship at one of the most historical sites in Britain is using volunteer labour despite its multi-million pound income and corporate sponsorship.
A student featured in national media is living in a tent five miles from the site, and foraging for berries and nuts, as he helps build the replica longship, and related work.
The 21-year-old student, Alec Newland, has abandoned all modern conveniences to immerse himself in his historical interests and has spent recent months living as an Anglo-Saxon from around AD625.
Mr Newland, who is helping to build a full-size, functioning replica of the Sutton Hoo ship, wears clothes he made himself and sleeps in a tent of handwoven, unwashed wool pitched steeply from the branch of a tree. “Dressed [as] I am, I get some strange looks and stares but I’m doing what I love and life is much better when you don’t care what people think,” he said.
Describing his unorthodox living arrangements, he added: “This is something an Anglo-Saxon would have camped under if they had been on a journey and although my feet sometimes get wet, it’s preferable to a nylon tent. The Saxon way makes you feel a little less human and a little wilder. I’ve tested the tent in dense snow, using only sheepskin, and in thunderstorms and it has served me well.”
Mr Newland has taken a break from his studies at Exeter University and lives at present in Suffolk close to Sutton Hoo, where a warlord who is believed from dating evidence to have been King Raedwald of East Anglia was buried in a ship with grave goods from as far afield as the Byzantine empire.
Most mornings Mr Newland wakes at sunrise, forages for berries, nuts and mushrooms and walks five miles from his campsite to the Longshed in Woodbridge. There he spends the day volunteering on a project run by the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company to reconstruct the 90ft vessel using traditional tools and methods. The project is described at saxonship.org, where the public can sponsor individual fittings such as rivets.
“I’m learning blacksmithing, metal work and woodwork and I have the privilege of working on the biggest and first large-scale naval experimental archaeology project in England,” Mr Newland said. “Back in Saxon days a man of my age with a boat builder for a father would have been doing a job like this from the age of 13. I’m trying my hardest to be as accurate as I can be in terms of how I dress, travel and where I work, and I learn new things every day.”
Mr Newland grew up in a house in the woods in Somerset with his mother, a seamstress, and his brother. “When I was four I would dress up as a caveman, make dens and sleep outdoors,” he said.
“I still sleep outdoors but I’ve moved on to the Saxons and am fascinated by their ability to be sustainable.
“I’m completely plastic-free and really think about what I consume. Today we are so used to having other people take care of everything for us. Hardly any people today have basic survival skills.”
He added: “Back in AD625 … despite not having the technology we have now, they created … beautiful jewellery, an ornate helmet, an enormous ship.”
Mr Newland hopes to use the knowledge acquired living as an Anglo-Saxon to build a house and live off-grid. “It would be great to find a Saxon girl,” he added. “If she’s out there and looking for an adventure, I am here waiting.”
The Off-grid web site will pass on all comments or emails to Mr Newland from those wanting to get in touch with him. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The story here is merging two things – the National Trust site at Sutton Hoo which is the burial site, and the ‘Ships Company’ which is separate organisation in the town of Woodbridge who are leading the project to build a replica ship. The NT site has had Heritage Lottery Funding for its major revamp which seems to be the ‘millions’ referred to, but that’s separate.