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The Basil Brown Archive

In the world of archaeology the Anglo-Saxon royal burial site at Sutton Hoo is of immense significance, both nationally and internationally. Basil Brown, archaeologist, amateur astronomer and author is most famously known for excavating the outline of the ship and its treasures just as war broke out in 1939. Suffolk Record Office and the County Archaeological Archive hold complimentary collections of his diaries, site logs, lecture notes and photographs, recording not only his work at Sutton Hoo, but also at other important sites across Suffolk.

Basil Brown’s personal records were originally deposited at Ipswich Museum in 1977 by his widow, May. In the 1990s, the Suffolk Archaeology Department started to transcribe some of his notebooks.  Then in 2014, the material was deposited with Suffolk Record Office with the agreement of Ipswich Borough Council, keeping much of the material together.

The inside cover of one of Basil Brown's journals (Ref: HD3096)

The inside cover of one of Basil Brown’s journals, with photo and sketches of denarii of Emperor Hadrian (Ref: HD3096)

Page from a journal of Basil Brown relating to the Sutton Hoo excavations (Ref: HD3096)

Page from one of Basil Brown’s journals relating to the Sutton Hoo excavations (click image for transcript) (Ref: HD3096).

“I will first of all say that of the many actors in the drama I am the only one who went through the 1938 & 1939 digs and Mrs Pretty remarked during the 1939 dig that “Brown began the ship and he will be here at the finish”.”

The County Archaeological Archive retains a significant proportion of Basil Brown’s records from sites that he worked on other than Sutton Hoo, such as Roman Villas at Stanton and Castle Hill, Whitton and Roman Pottery kilns in the Wattisfield area.  His archives from his period as a recorder for the Ordnance Survey in the 1950s are also held.

The Record Office part of the collection (HD3096) has recently been catalogued in detail with help from two ‘Skills for the Future’ interns from the Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service and the records scanned to allow greater public access to this nationally important archive.

The catalogue is available here.