Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Making of Raedwald

Raedwald Anglo Saxon hand sculpted metal and oak wall plaque

Long have I loved the Sutton Hoo helmet and the story behind the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon ship burial that must rank as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

(This is an older version of this article, and of this design. You can see the new designs and a new version of the article here.)

Raedwald (Old English: Raedwald, 'power in counsel,') is generally considered to be the most favoured candidate for the occupant of the burial, although other theories have been advanced. He was a 7th century king of East Anglia and, from about 616, was the most powerful of the English kings south of the River Humber, being referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a bretwalda (an Old English term meaning 'Britain-ruler' or 'wide-ruler.)

Source Wikipedia
The helmet has become an iconic image and one used often to illustrate books, magazines,
articles etc. about the 'Dark Ages,' times that are, at last, beginning to be seen as anything but dark. As such, it is a rare person who does not recognise this beautiful image.

What I didn't know, until recently, was that when it was originally restored in 1947, it looked completely different, and no where near as beautiful. In 1968 it was painstakingly taken apart and reassembled. There were more than 500 fragments and over a year's work to rebuild what we now see.

Unlike many others, I much prefer the reconstructed original to the still undeniably beautiful 'recreated' helmets that I have seen in reenactor circles and at the British Museum. I know this is a little romantic of me, as it is not the helmet that the owner knew and wore, but I suppose this is the same argument as whether you prefer ancient ruins or reconstructed buildings. I do believe that there is a place for both...but that is another story....

Every single one of the plaques that I make is entirely hand made by myself, including the wooden 'backing/frame,' and although this plaque is not large, it takes quite a lot of work to ensure that the detail is just right. With such a recognisable image, the slightest mistake can easily make it seem 'wrong' to even the most casual glance. Having said that, I still employ, and claim, a degree of artistic licence. This is a design based on the Sutton Hoo helmet, I have not tried to make a museum replica...

When I had made the first prototype, I felt it needed something 'more,' and decided to add a small runic inscription at top and bottom of the plaque.

Kirkheaton runic stone
Inscribed stone from Kirkheaton Church
I love local museums, as they always surprise me with their collections, which are often more fascinating and absorbing with the intimacy of their local connections, than some of the larger exhibitions in the big museums.

When I was making Raedwald, I had recently visited the splendid Tolson Museum in Huddersfield, which houses a stone found in the restoration of Kirkheaton Church in 1886 dating to about AD875-925.
This stone has inscribed on it in Anglian runes, "Eoh woro htae" - Eoh wrought (this.)

Perfect, I thought, for my latest piece! So, for those of you who may have wondered....the runic inscription on 'Readwald' is: 'bod wrought this' or 'bod woro htae.'

Overall I loved making Raedwald, and weaving various bits of story into him from my travels and researches. I wanted him to be evocative of a time and a notion. A time that we have, until recently, much maligned. A time of warriors and honour. A time of integrity and values. A time of artistic beauty and bold undertakings. A time that has left us with a rich legacy of stories with, hopefully, many more rich discoveries yet to come......

I hope you like Raedwald and the values that he embodies.

Thanks for reading


Justbod Team

A range of Raedwald wall plaques is normally available 
to buy from our  'Warriors' Collection.

See Collections for all of bod’s currently available works. 

Justbod Celtic Viking and Mythical sculptures and carvings

You might also be interested in: Behold the Specklebeast...
- another of bod's Anglo-Saxon inspired designs

Celtic Art Beast Sculpture Wall Plaque
Visit the Specklebeast

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Sources and further information:

British Museum: Restoring the Sutton Hoo Helmet
Sutton Hoo helmet on Wikipedia 
Tolson Museum Leaflet on the Kirkheaton Stone 
West Yorkshire Archaeology Leaflet on Kirkheaton Church including the stones 
Raedwald on Wikipedia


  1. I wish I'd known of the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield when I was up visiting my daughter in Sheffield recently. I have noted it down for a future visit. A fascinating post.

    1. Thanks Bovey Belle. It is a really interesting museum and well worth a visit when you next get the chance :)