The doors of Britain’s historic monuments and buildings, including many that are normally closed to the public, are set to be flung open in September. Heritage Open Days, established in 1994, has become England’s biggest heritage festival, with thousands of stately homes, historic properties and archives opening their doors between 13-22 September.
To celebrate the event’s 25th anniversary this year, a special programme of themed events will focus on ‘People Power’ – looking into both modern and historic communities, groups and individuals that have been drivers of positive change. More than 5,000 free events are expected to take place, giving visitors a unique glimpse into the buildings and the people that run them.
Open House London
The ten day event coincides with Open House London, taking place on 21-22 September, an architecture festival which seeks to showcase the benefits of great design by giving free access to many of London’s best buildings.
Last year more than 800 buildings, walks, talks and tours were part of Open House London, with those events visited by more than a quarter of a million people. Among the buildings to open their doors were historic houses and monuments, places of worship, private clubs, train stations, government buildings, town halls and even tunnels!
The programme for this year will be unveiled on 20 August, although UK Parliament has already confirmed that it is taking part on 21 September by granting admission to Portcullis House – the newest building on the parliamentary estate.
Events to look out for
Heritage Open Days has already confirmed several highlights for 2019, including a community harvest at the National Trust’s Brockhampton orchard and a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the Prince Philip Maritime Collection housed at Royal Museums Greenwich. Here are just some of the thousands of events to look out for.
New for 2019
Prince Philip Maritime Collection, Greenwich
Visitors can catch a rare glimpse of the Prince Philip Maritime Collection as part of an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Museum Greenwich’s storage collection. The items will be accompanied by interpretations by local residences that take into account the heritage stories behind them.
When? Friday 20 September and Saturday 21 September at 10:30am, 12pm, 1:30pm and 3pm, with an additional show at 4pm on Friday.
The Way We Were film screening, Sunderland
The Way We Were film screening will combine film, music and photographs that explore Sunderland throughout history, taking visitors on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
When? Tuesday 17 September at 7pm
Medieval Origins of Today's Remedies, John Innes Centre, Norwich
Learn about the importance of plants and gardens in medieval medicine as part of an exploration of how the past has influenced the present at the John Innes Centre, a hub for plant science research and training. Alongside illustrated talks from Dr Joy Hawkins, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and Anne Edwards, a plant scientist at the centre, the open house event will look at the Medieval Origins of Today’s Remedies, including a display of rare books.
When? Thursday 19 September and Friday 20 September at 10am.
People Power events
Collections Showcase, Newcastle University Library Archives, Newcastle
Delve into Newcastle’s rich history as part of a thought-provoking look at the Newcastle University Library Archives. Learn how the city’s first female doctor and suffragist Ethal William’s fought for women’s rights and discover how student marches and human rights speeches helped to shape Newcastle’s past, as revealed by the Special Collections and Archives Team.
When? Thursday 19 September, 1pm-4pm.
Scott House at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Gloucester
Once the home of environmental conservation campaigner Sir Peter Scott, visitors to Scott House at WWT Slimbridge can find out about his life and work, while embracing the ‘people power’ he harnessed when creating both the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wildlife Fund.
When? Saturday 14 September, 10am-4pm.
Moor Pool Heritage Festival, Moor Pool Heritage Trust, Birmingham
The delightful Arts and Crafts Garden Suburb in Birmingham was saved following a community campaign in 2014, and it remains one of the last remaining intact Garden Suburbs in the UK. To celebrate the ‘people power’ of the community, the gardens will be opened for families to enjoy sports games, musical performances and an exciting array of children’s activities.
When? Sunday 15 September, 11am-3pm.
Heritage Steam Railway, Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight’s Heritage Steam Railway is offering several weekends of fun for all the family at the Train Story Discovery Centre. Interactive displays will showcase the historic locomotives, carriages and wagons, while guided tours will provide exclusive access to workshops, giving visitors a rare glimpse of ongoing restoration work. There’ll also be a birds of prey flying display to keep youngsters entertained.
When? Saturday 14 September and Sunday 15 December, 11am-3.30pm, and Thursday 19 September to Sunday 22 September, 9.30am to 5pm.
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
Visitors can explore the renowned Gladstone Pottery Museum and even get hands-on with an array of interactive demonstrations and activities. The site provides a fascinating insight into the history of Stoke-on-Trent while numerous throwing, casting and painting demonstrations will highlight the skills that helped put the Pottery on the map. The on-site Flushed with Pride exhibition takes a fun look at the history of sewerage too, embracing giant toilet rolls and rude sound effects in the process!
When? Saturday 21 September, 10am-5pm.
Magpie Mine, Derbyshire
Britain’s best surviving example of an 18th and 19th-century lead mine, Magpie Mine was the last working mine in the Peak District. Since closing in 1958, the site is has been designated a Scheduled Monument and is preserved by the Peak District Mines Historical Society. Although the mining tunnels will remain closed for Heritage Open Days, a comprehensive guided tour will provide insight into life at the mine by exploring the former buildings, delving into a piece of mining heritage in the process.
When? Sunday 15 September, 11am-4pm
Welwyn Roman Baths, Welwyn
Travel back in history at the Welwyn Roman Baths to experience what life was like 1,700 years ago for the Romans of Britain. Alongside dressing up in period costumes, children can embrace traditional Roman games and learn more about foods of the past, before exploring several thrilling trails around the ancient site.
When? Saturday 14 September, 2pm-5pm.
Enter into the world of Victorian inventor Lord Armstrong, an innovator and landscaping genius, at Cragside. As the world’s first house to be lit using hydroelectricity, the extraordinary property remains full of gadgets, while its garden spaces are equally as impressive. One of Europe’s largest rock gardens leads the way to the Iron Bridge, while the Rhododendron forest tunnels of Nelly’s Labyrinth offer an outdoor escape for all the family.
When? Thursday 19 September, 10am-5pm.
Watts Artist Village, Surrey
Packed with paintings and sculptures from Victorian artist G F Watts, the historic galleries at the Watts Artist Village can be explored via guided tours, talks and workshops. Bask in the glorious surroundings of the site’s Grade I listed chapel, see the studios where Watts created his masterpieces and get behind-the-scenes access to Limnerslease, a property designed by the great Arts & Crafts architect Sir Ernest George.
When? Sunday 15 September
Brockhampton’s Damson Harvest Helpers, Worcester
Visitors to Brockhampton’s orchards can pick fruit to assist with fundraising for the medieval manor’s replanting project as part of the community damson harvest. The trees at the National Trust site are laden with fruit in the autumn months, giving people the chance to relax and refresh their senses while surrounded by the best of what nature has to offer.
When? Saturday 14 September, 11am-5pm.
Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, Bedfordshire
This spectacular 18th century summerhouse has beautifully crafted brickwork and dates back to around 1712. Lovingly restored by the Landmark Trust in the years since the Second World War to include an elegant bedsit with kitchen, dining, sitting and sleeping space, Queen Anne’s Summerhouse on the Shuttleworth Estate promises beautiful architecture and exceptional views.
When? Friday 13 September to Sunday 15 September, 10am-4pm, and Monday 16 September, 10am-1pm.
Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Staffordshire
Discover a spectacular array of former mining buildings at the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, the most comprehensive surviving deep mine complex in England. Although there is no underground access now, visitors can access and explore the many different structures as part of a guided tour by Chatterley Whitfield Friends. The site closed and became a museum in 1973, and although the museum closed its doors in 1993, a new heritage centre explains the site’s rich history.
When? Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September, and Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 September, 10am-4pm.
Arlington Court, Devon
A jewel in the National Trust’s crown, Arlington Court houses an impressive set of horse-drawn vehicles in addition to an intriguing Regency property. The National Trust Carriage Museum includes vehicles for every occasion, and the collection currently includes the Speaker’s State Coach – a glorious carriage with more than 300 years of history. Visitors can explore the family estate, including 20 miles of walking paths and a two-mile loop around the man-made lake.
When? Saturday 14 September, 11am-5pm.
Wilmington Priory, East Sussex
Dating back to 1215, Wilmington Priory was once the priory of a Benedictine Abbey and features architectural additions from nearly every century since. Although the abbey is now a romantic ruin, visitors can get a glimpse of the Landmark Trust’s restoration of the neighbouring farmhouse, now a holiday let.
When? Saturday 14 September and Sunday 15 September, 10am-4pm, and Monday 16 September, 10am-1pm.
Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool
Hidden deep below Liverpool are the Williamson Tunnels, a 200-year-old labyrinth developed by 19th-century philanthropist Joseph Williamson. Lost and forgotten for a long period, the tunnels can be explored as part of a guided tour that reveals what was behind his mysterious burrowing.
When? Friday 13 to Sunday 15 September, and Friday 20 September to Sunday 22 September, all tours at 10.30am.
Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire
With exclusive access to parts of Gawthorpe Hall that are not usually open to the public, Heritage Open Day will allow people to see a different side to the National Trust property. Browse textiles from the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection and see portraits from the National Portrait Gallery before experiencing the surroundings of the Victorian kitchen and servant’s quarters.
When? Saturday 14 September, 12pm-5pm.
Heritage Open Days is coordinated and promoted nationally by the National Trust with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.