Manual Ref* SUscSH001 Show 2 images 913

Sutton Hoo Helmet

County Suffolk   District Council Suffolk Coastal 
Civil Parish or equivalent Sutton  Town/Village* Sutton Hoo 
Road Off B1083 Woodbridge Road 
Precise Location Sutton Hoo Exhibition Hall 
OS Grid Ref TM290491  Postcode IP12 
Previous location(s)  
Setting Above entrance to Exhibition hall and Treasury  Access Public 
Artist/Maker Role Qualifier
Rick Kirby  Sculptor(s)   
Birch engineering  Other   

Commissioned by

National Trust 

Design & Constrn period


Date of installing

March 2002 

Exact date of unveiling



Abstract Animal Architectural
Commercial Commemorative Composite
Free Functional Funerary
Heraldic Military Natural
Non-Commemorative Performance Portable
Religious Roadside, Wayside Sculptural
Temporary, Mobile Other  

Object Type

Building Clock Tower Architectural
Coat of Arms Cross Fountain
Landscape Marker Medallion
Mural Panel Readymade
Relief Shaft Sculpture
Statue Street Furniture War Memorial
Other Object Sub Type: Replica giant helmet/mask

Subject Type

Allegorical Mythological Pictorial
Figurative Non-figurative Portrait
Still-life Symbolic Other

Subject Sub Type

Bust Equestrian Full-length
Group Head Reclining
Seated Standing Torso
Part Material Dimension
Helmet  Small mild steel plates, coloured red  1.8 h. 1.2 w. 1.6 deep 

Work is

Extant Not Sited Lost


National Trust 

Listing status

Grade I Grade II* Grade II Don't Know Not Listed

Surface Condition

Corrosion, Deterioration Accretions
Bird Guano Abrasions, cracks, splits
Biological growth Spalling, crumbling
Metallic staining Previous treatments

Structural Condition

Armature exposed Broken or missing parts
Replaced parts Loose elements
Cracks, splits, breaks, holes Spalling, crumbling
Water collection Other


Graffiti Structural damage Surface Damage

Overall condition

Good Fair Poor


No Known Risk At Risk Immediate

Description (physical)

Kirby’s giant Sutton Hoo Helmet, a version of the fragmentary Sutton Hoo helmet, discovered in the excavations of 1939 was inspired by the reconstruction made by Nigel Williams, with new methods and previously unidentified materials, for the British Museum in 1970-71, but without the smaller decorative panels. Kirby set the helmet,which hangs down above the entrance to the exhibition hall and treasury, on a steel frame. 

Description (iconographical)

It was commissioned by the National Trust as part of the new £3.5 million exhibition centre and visitor facilities designed by van Heyningen and Haward, opened in March 2002 with a reading from his new translation of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney. The site was given to the National Trust by Leslie and Anne Tranmer in 1998. Kirby exploited the iconic mask like qualities and broken appearance of Bruce-Mitford’s reconstruction which carefully included the surviving decorative gilt and tinned bronze plates. The helmet was found along with a gold buckle, purse, and shield, all placed in the ship, the largest and most complete example of an English vessel of the first millennium - some 27m (90ft) in length. Such ships would have been used to travel across the North Sea, for trade, for settlement and to forge links with kingdoms in other countries. One such burial is described in the Prologue of Beowulf: there laiyd they down their darling lord/ on the breast of the boat, the breaker of rings/by the mast the mighty one. Many a treasure fetched from afar was freighted with him/ No ship have I known so nobly dight/ with weapons of war and weeds of battle,’ with breastplate and blade/’ trans Gummere. There, by contrast with Sutton Hoo, the boat is pushed out to sea, while the poem ends with Beowulf’s funeral pyre. Ship burials are rare in England, but relatively more common in Scandinavia. The helmet, now one of the treasures of the British Museum, was made from a crested iron cap with full face mask, cheek guards and a neck guard behind. Either end of the eyebrow-pieces of the helm's face were protective boar's heads, just as they are located in the description of helms in Beowulf, IV, as noted in the account by Dr Sam Newton, ‘Then shone the boars2_over the cheek-guard; chased with gold, keen and gleaming’ trans Gummere In 1937, Mrs. Edith May Pretty, the owner of the site, employed Basil Brown, a Suffolk archaeologist who had excavated for Ipswich Museum since 1934 to explore the ancient mounds near her house at Sutton Hoo. Brown opened three mounds in 1938. He realised that, even though all of them had already been plundered, they had been rich Anglo-Saxon graves, and found traces of a buried boat. In 1939 Basil Brown opened the largest mound, cutting a trench from east to west, he discovered iron ship-rivets in the sand. Without removing them he worked carefully and gradually revealed the shape of a 27m (90ft) ship; the wood had rotted leaving only a stain in the sandy soil. The date of Beowulf has been debated for almost a century. The quickest and easiest assumption is that it was an oral poem celebrating a former age, that was eventually transcribed around 1000, and has since been passed down in the form of the manuscript. 


Date taken:  28/7/2009
Date logged: 

Photographed by:
Sarah Cocke

On Site Inspection

Date:  28/7/2009

Inspected by:

Sources and References

Dr Sam Newton, Blotmona_ AD 2000 at / -suttonhoo/w-suttonhoo-archaeology.htm ~beowulf/main.html and for translation by Gummere F.B; Wikipedia, Sutton Hoo, brought to our attention by Luc Mitchell, one of the main authors of the article  


Date entered:  29/7/2009

Data inputter:
Richard Cocke