Over the winter of 2019-2020, images from the archive at Sutton Hoo were digitised in their entirety for the first time. The images, captured by Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff OB 1909, were taken during the summer of 1939 and provide a remarkable insight into the people and processes behind the excavation of the Great Ship Burial.
The collection includes original colour prints, an incredible survival from the very earliest days of the use of colour reversal film, and original 35mm Agfa Isopan F negative film. The colour prints, as far as research has shown, appear to be the earliest surviving original colour photographs of a major archaeological excavation. The image collection consists of photograph albums, loose black and white images and negatives. The significance of this collection has been reflected in a successful bid for internal funding as part of the National Trust's Collections Conservation Prioritisation (CCP) programme to both conserve and digitise the images to ensure they survive for future generations.
The digitisation process is just the latest part of the process in caring for the image archive. The Lack and Wagstaff photographs have been carefully catalogued over the past two years by volunteers and staff under expert guidance as part of this CCP project. Any remedial conservation work required, such as repairing small tears, was undertaken at the time and each album was housed in a bespoke portfolio folder.
Who were Lack and Wagstaff?
In both the novel and the film (The Dig 2021), the photographer working at Sutton Hoo is Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn), a cousin of Edith Pretty. Rory Lomax is a fictional character. The real key photographers of the excavation were Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff, both teachers, close friends and serious amateur photographers. They had a keen interest in archaeology and were on holiday in the area at the time. Between the 8th and 25th August they captured 400 images (including some very early colour images) and an 8mm cine film. Their original images were generously given to the National Trust by Mercie Lack's great nephew, Andrew Lack. Recently these images have been carefully conserved and digitised.