Martin Carver called his 1998 book reporting on his campaign of investigations at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk: Sutton Hoo. Burial Ground of Kings? Here I discuss childs’ play at the heritage site; the ‘playground of kings’.
I recently revisited the National Trust site of Sutton Hoo in order to explore the exhibition hall and the mounds.
It was a long haul from North Wales and I took with me two of my kids. We stopped en route in a hotel. Their toys – the crow acquired at Stonehenge called Maximus, Twinkle the owl and mummy and baby bear – came too. They all enjoyed watching the early morning rabbits outside the hotel window before we headed on to Suffolk.
Inside the exhibition hall the kids enjoyed looking in the display cases and watching the video. Also, there were children’s play dimensions within the exhibition; dressing up. This particular couple of kids don’t get into dressing up, but my son did stick on a helmet.
Incongruously perhaps, they were placed next to the sand body discussing later Anglo-Saxon execution victims.
In any case, the ‘treasure’ within the chamber in the exhibition hall could be touched, which my daughter enjoyed interacting with.
Walking around the site, we went to Tranmer House where a quartet were playing Christmas carols and other songs and I got to eat not only my own mine pie, but my kids’ mince pies (they took them, nibbled them, but then didn’t want them: typical!).
The best ‘play’ element of the entire site, however, was getting to meet up with Raedwald himself – Paul Mortimer – with his replica armour and weapons. More about that in a future post…
There was one further ‘play’ element I want to discuss. There was a playground adjacent to the car park. It was saturated. Still, the kids wanted to (briefly) explore it. We quickly realised that the Sutton Hoo theme extended to this area too…
The zip line was vaguely nautical, with prow and stern-like posts. There was an oval mound with a ship-shaped depression within it: an attempt to evoke the shape of Mound 1 but actually looking more like something from Valsgarde, Uppland, Sweden, as it appears today. There was also a play ship.
There were, close by and around the back of the adjacent exhibition hall, markers on the ground to indicate where early medieval burials were found ahead of the construction of the National Trust visitor centre. In all these regards, the play ground is integral to the visitor centre and the Dark Age theme of the landscape.
I’ve previously posted about medieval themes permeating play grounds and there are certainly more overt examples of fantasy medievalism. This is example is suitably National Trust and tasteful by comparion. Still it was an unexpected additional example of Dark Age playtime. Most specifically, it is the first heritage play area with an explicitly funereal theme I’ve come across!