Open doors in Britain - discover Britain's stately homes and archives

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. As England’s biggest heritage festival, Heritage Open Days will see thousands of stately homes, historic properties and archives welcome you through 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, providing you with a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into the buildings and the people that run them.

Open House London

The ten day event coincides with Open House London, an architecture festival over the weekend of 21-22 September which seeks to showcase the benefits of great design by giving you 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 you’ll be able to access Portcullis House – the newest building on the parliamentary estate – on 21 September.

Events to look out for

Heritage Open Days has already confirmed plenty for this year, 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 you should look out for.

New for 2019

1. Prince Philip Maritime Collection, Greenwich

Prince Phillip Maritime Collections Centre Tour, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

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 on display on 20-21 September will be accompanied by interpretations by local residences that take into account the heritage stories behind them.

Prince Philip Maritime Collection

2. The Way We Were film screening, Sunderland

The Way We Were film screening on 17 September will combine film, music and photographs that explore Sunderland throughout history, taking you on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

The Way We Were film screening

3. 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 events on 19-20 September will look at the Medieval Origins of Today’s Remedies, including a display of rare books.

John Innes Centre

People Power events

4. 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 on 19 September. 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.

Newcastle University Library Archives

5. 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 so you can enjoy sports games, musical performances and an exciting array of children’s activities on 15 September.

Moor Pool Heritage Festival

6. Scott House at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Gloucester

Once the home of environmental conservation campaigner Sir Peter Scott, Scott House at WWT Slimbridge will open its doors so you can find out about his life and work on 14 September. You’ll also be able to discover how he harnessed people power when creating both the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wildlife Fund.

Scott House

Family Activities

7. 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 grant you an exclusive peek into the workshops, providing a rare glimpse of ongoing restoration work. A birds of prey flying display will help to keep youngsters entertained too.

Heritage Steam Railway

8. Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent

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!

Gladstone Pottery Museum

9. Magpie Mine, Derbyshire

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 has been designated a Scheduled Monument and is preserved by the Peak District Mines Historical Society. Although the mining tunnels will remain closed for the Heritage Open Day on 15 September, a comprehensive guided tour will give you insight into life at the mine by exploring the former buildings, delving into a piece of mining heritage in the process.

Magpie Mine

10. 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 on 14 September, before exploring several thrilling trails around the ancient site.

Welwyn Roman Baths

11. Cragside, Northumberland

Enter into the world of Victorian inventor Lord Armstrong, an innovator and landscaping genius, at Cragside on 19 September. 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.


12. Watts Artist Village, Surrey

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 on 15 September, with 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.

Watts Artist Village

13. Brockhampton’s Damson Harvest Helpers, Worcester

Why not help pick fruit to assist with Brockhampton medieval manor’s replanting project as part of the community damson harvest on 14 September? The trees at the National Trust site are laden with fruit in the autumn months, giving you the chance to relax and refresh your senses while surrounded by the best of what nature has to offer.

Brockhampton Harvest

Historic Openings

14. Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, Bedfordshire

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. You can explore this spectacular 18th century summerhouse with its beautifully crafted brickwork for free from 13-16 September.

Queen Anne’s Summerhouse

15. Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Staffordshire

Chatterley Whitfield, 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, you can access and explore the many different structures as part of a guided tour by Chatterley Whitfield Friends on selected days in September. 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.

Chatterley Whitfield Colliery

16. 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. Explore the family estate, including 20 miles of walking paths and a two-mile loop around the man-made lake, when the site opens for visitors on 14 September.

Arlington Court

17. Wilmington Priory, East Sussex

Dating back to 1215, Wilmington Priory was once the priory of a Benedictine Abbey and the romantic ruin features architectural additions from nearly every century since. From 14-16 September, you can get a glimpse of the Landmark Trust’s restoration of the neighbouring farmhouse, which is now a holiday let.

Wilmington Priory

18. Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

Williamson's 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, you can explore the tunnels as part of a guided tour this September to find out what was behind his mysterious burrowing.

Williamson Tunnels

19. Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire

With exclusive access to parts of Gawthorpe Hall that are not usually open to the public, Heritage Open Day promises to show you 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 it opens its doors on 14 September.

Gawthorpe Hall
27 Mar 2020(last updated)