Sutton Hoo of the north: £10.4m visitor centre to celebrate Anglo-Saxon site

Chris Ferguson, a Guardian reporter, and 12 indifferent sheep were all standing in the great hall.
There would have been a royal residence, and behind it a grandstand. This is the highest point of Anglo-Saxon history in this country.

Ferguson stands in a field, telling the story about one of the most extraordinary archaeological finds of the past century. He and his family are here to tell the story of one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of the last century.

A team of archaeologists led by Brian Hope-Taylor discovered Ad Gefrin in the vicinity of the hill with goats in the 1950s. This site includes a series of timber halls including the Great Hall and a unique wooden Grandstand that formed the royal summer palace for seventh-century Northumbrian queens and kings.

Ad Gefrin is a complex of timber halls that includes the Great Hall and a wooden grandstand. Photograph by Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Although it was arguably just as important as the Sutton Hoo discoveries of the 1930s in many ways, it didn't have the same glamour. Ferguson says that there was no spectacular helmet or buried ship, so the story has not been as well known.

It should. It may seem like a rural backwater now, but it was once one of Britain's most important sites.

Ad Gefrin was the summer residence of the kings thelfrith, Edwin, and his queen consort thelburga as well as the saintly Oswald. It was the scene of some of the most important events in early northern English history.

In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in AD731, Bede relates how the Pope Gregory I sent the Italian missionary Paulinus to baptize people in the River Glen for 36 days.

It was a place for hospitality, feasting, and cultural exchange. Visitors would have come from Rome and Ireland as well as all other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It was also a site of feuding and battles, and was destroyed twice by Penda, King of the Britons, and Cadwallon.

A Wooler visitor center and museum will be opened that will tell the story of Ad Gefrin, Northumbria's Anglo-Saxon golden era. The museum will feature a recreation of the Great Hall, complete with weapons and thrones. This will show that the so-called dark age was anything but gloomy. Ferguson says they were among the most glamorous people one could imagine. This place will be very blingy with bright, vivid colours and gold.

Ad Gefrin has also created Northumberlands' first legal single malt whisky distillery, offering tours and tastings. Profits from the distillery are expected to cover the more difficult cultural aspects of the operation. Ferguson says that you don't have to do them both but it is great if they do.

Ferguson hopes that people will visit Yeavering four miles from Wooler to see the beautiful Ad Gefrin archaeological site. Some might even climb Yeavering Bell to discover the largest iron age hill fort in northern England.

Construction of the Ad Gefrin Centre in Wooler, Northumberland. This will bring to life the settlement's history. Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Ferguson, the head of operations and the lead curator for the project, stated that the museum would open in fall 2022. Is he referring to it as the Sutton Hoo of North? In effect, the answer is yes. This is the right place to go if you want to learn more about the northern medieval period. The golden age of Northumbria is not as well-known as Sutton Hoo. It deserves the same attention.

Ferguson feels that Anglo-Saxon history is not often given the attention it deserves. This period is often overlooked in general education. It is possible for students to be taught the Tudors, Victorians, and Romans at school. You are often asked: "Where are the Anglo-Saxons?" Which are they?

This project is all about people, excitement, and bringing history alive.