Rendlesham, a royal residence…

It is a matter of historical record that Rendlesham was once the capital of the Anglo Saxon Kings of East Anglia. Their seventh-century royal estate would probably have included Bromeswell, Eyke and Sutton.

There is every chance that the name Rendlesham comes from the Anglo Saxon words for ‘the home of the shield'. Sutton Hoo would have been the southern edge of Rendlesham. According to the tradition of the day, great leaders were to be buried on a hill, overlooking water.

King Raedwald, whose ship burial it is widely believed was the one found at Sutton Hoo, was a member of the Wuffinga family. He was a descendant of Wuffa, the first king of the East Angles.

According to Bede, Raedwald was baptised in Kent but it was said that his royal church, possibly on the site of the medieval St Gregory's Church, had two altars (one Christian, one pagan). Raedwald had become a Christian; his wife remained a pagan…

Dr Sam Newton, the Suffolk born Anglo Saxon scholar, describes Raedwald as the first King of England. Following his victory in the Battle of the Idle (northern England)

  “Raedwald would have been the first English king in recorded history to be overlord of both Northern and Southern Britain.
There followed a time of great peace and prosperity”

His grave goods would indicate a very high status person - the beautiful master-crafted helmet and sword, the Egyptian Coptic bowls, the mint condition Merovingian coins (France), the garnets from India…

Rendlesham was well-known and well-recorded in Anglo Saxon times. Bede records that King Swithhelm (of Essex) was

“baptised in the kingly town that is named Rendlesham”

and that therefore this, according to Newton

“implies a complex of buildings including a great hall besides the royal church where King Swithhelm was baptised.”

Swithelm's ancestor, Raedwald, is identified with the great ship burial in the early 7th century at Sutton Hoo, just 4 miles away along the River Deben.

Until very recently, it was thought that the royal hall of the Wuffingas at Rendlesham would most likely have stood near St Gregory's Church but, as insufficient evidence had been found to substantiate this, it remained conjecture. In March 2014, it was revealed by Suffolk County's Archaeology Conservation Team that the location of an Anglo Saxon settlement, which had been in existence for 300-400 years, and which included evidence of both high status craft workers and high status residents had been located through the use of geophysics. (Nothing would remain of wooden buildings because of the acidic soil, it is only through geophysics that ‘stains', such as those left by completely rotted wooden posts, can be located.) A new exhibition at Sutton Hoo called Rendlesham Rediscovered has been created to share the immediately available information but, the archaeological research will continue and it will be some considerable time before the detailed papers are produced. In the meantime, Rendlesham is being referred to in the press as the “Village of the Kings”.

Despite the decline of the Anglo Saxon dynasty, Rendlesham must have continued to be a settlement of good size into medieval times as St Gregory's is the largest church in the locality. St Gregory's is a Grade I designated heritage asset, the highest level of designation for a building. However, there are very few buildings around the church today and Rendlesham does not seem to have been anything more than large farms and a few houses in more recent centuries. Two of the buildings: Naunton Hall and The Old Rectory are Grade II listed buildings.

The large manor house of Rendlesham Hall was constructed in 1780. It was acquired by Peter Thelluson, in the name of his son, in 1796. This son, the first Lord of Rendlesham, went into politics as a member of parliament. The Hall was destroyed by fire in 1830 and was rebuilt by the 5th Lord of Rendlesham in 1871. After his death in 1911, it was converted into a sanatorium and was then used by the British Army in World War Two. After that it stood empty until it was demolished in 1949.

The airfield, which became known as Bentwaters, was begun in 1942 on the east of what became the A1152 and was used by the RAF in World War Two.

In 1951, control of Bentwaters was transferred to the United States Air Force (USAF) who, having developed the airbase, then began to develop the land to the west of the A1152 for domestic buildings, creating one of the biggest American airbases in Europe.

During the 1980s there was an immense rebuilding programme.

Following the cessation of the Cold War, the USAF left Bentwaters/Rendlesham in 1993.

Thereafter, the entirety of the base, both technical and domestic, was sold by the MOD to Suncourt (Property Developments) Ltd. Following the failed application to use the technical base as an airport, the land to the east of the A1152 was sold again and has since been developed as a Business Park.

SCDC agreed with the developer that almost all of the American-built buildings on the domestic base could be demolished and that the domestic base would accommodate new-build housing. Suncourt (Property developments) Ltd promoted an ‘ambitious and visionary Master Plan for the entire residential area':
  • 520 high quality new homes from 2-6 bedrooms
  • State of the art sports centre with 42 station gym and free weights
  • On-site general practice surgery and medical centre
  • Otley College Outreach Centre
  • Theatre and conference centre with banqueting and other facilities
  • Convenience shopping at on-site 3000 sq ft general store
    - Cafe/diner and hot food take away
    - Extensive community centre and associated play areas
    - Local business park offering wide range of employment opportunities
    - Outstanding landscaping and public open space
 The following is also taken from the same publication:

‘Only very rarely do opportunities like this arise. The new homes at Rendlesham Heath are forming an integral part of a village which already boasts substantial modern community buildings as well as modern housing. Many of the facilities are of the standard you would expect of a small town, and the village is to be found close to both beautiful countryside and within easy distance of major urban attractions.

With the release of all the existing homes the land owners Suncourt (Property developments) Ltd have now embarked on an ambitious and visionary Master Plan for the final regeneration of the entire residential area. This includes plans that incorporate the best of a great sports and arts legacy from the USAF and modern up to the minute services and facilities to create a self-sustaining settlement for the 21st century.'

Despite the good intentions, the Master Plan to develop the Business Park and the domestic base together was not achieved.

Almost all of the USAF buildings on the domestic site were demolished and the parish was left with five original structures, which were not houses. Of these, two were retained by the landowner and, as part of the overall Village Redevelopment Plan, were deemed as having community benefit (the Sports Centre and Angel Theatre). By 2009, both the ‘great sports and arts legacy' buildings had been closed by Suncourt, now operating as Walnut Tree Property Ltd. Both buildings have been standing empty on unkempt sites and, since December 2015, have been the subject of a demolition order.

To this end, Rendlesham's Neighbourhood Plan (March 2015) was made to provide for the infrastructure and guidance for housing and economic growth so the village can move forward in a balanced and holistic way.


The Reckoning of King Raedwald Sam Newton

In Search of the Dark Ages Michael Wood


Sutton Hoo is a National Trust Property with a Visitors Centre. For more information, please see Sutton Hoo