Rendlesham, a Royal residence…

Rendlesham in Anglo Saxon times

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.

                                    Rendil    shield

                                    Ham       home of

                                    Sutton    southern

                                    Hoo        hill

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, who died in 578 A.D.

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…

When he died in 624 or 625 A.D. Raedwald’s burial ship would probably have been put on the River Deben near to the present day St Gregory’s. (As with many rivers in the area, the Deben’s flow has decreased and it is now not much more than a stream.)

The royal hall of the Wuffingas at Rendlesham would most likely have stood near the church but, to date, despite much pottery and metalwork finds, no archaeological survey has revealed its location and, in the acid soils of the area, nothing would remain of the wooden building. Rather like the ship burial, all that would remain is the ‘stain’ in the sandy soil.

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.

King Aethelwald, a descendant of Raedwald’s, was Swithhelm’s godfather.

After the Anglo Saxons

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. 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.

There is a folk law tale of a golden crown being dug up in Rendlesham in 1687, it tells of the crown being melted down…

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.

It appears that other fine buildings may also have been demolished around this time immediately prior to the Listed Building Act as owners considered it would be too costly to restore them.

The Airfield

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

In 1951, control of Bentwaters was transferred to the United States Air Force who developed the airbase, along with land to the west of the A1152 for domestic buildings, to create one of the biggest American airbases in Europe.

American houses were imported and built in Suffolk Drive in the 50s and 60s for personnel of officer rank.

During the 1980s there was an immense rebuilding programme. Avocet Mews was completed in 1984 as temporary living quarters for personnel in transit.

In order to get all the base personnel on to site, planning permission was given for housing in Wackerfield and Towerfield and two other small sites. The housing was completed just as the base closed in 1993 when Bentwaters returned to Ministry of Defence ownership.

The Americans and their families brought prosperity of the area and the popularity of the facilities on the base, including a bowling alley, cinema, clubs, restaurants, shops and a library, was sadly missed by those who remained.

After several changes of owner and some controversial plans for the airfield site, the industrial site became a business park. The land to the west of the A1152 was finally sold to developers to create the new village, which was referred to as ‘New Rendlesham’ and subsequently ‘Rendlesham Heath’. Suffice it to say that neither the ‘New’ nor the ‘Heath’ bit caught on…

SCDC finally conceded and altered the current signpost to St Gregory’s, that used to say ‘Rendlesham’ and labelled the whole area, encompassing some very old homes such as those near St Gregory’s, some homes built by the Americans such as those down Suffolk Drive and the recent new build developments, all as Rendlesham.


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.