I’m nosy. I confess. It’s one of the reasons why I love visiting historic buildings. I like to see first hand where people lived and how; take a step into people’s lives from the past where things actually happened.
My favourite weekend of the year has to be the annual Heritage Open Day weekend. This year it runs from 10 to 13 September and gives you a chance to be nosy for free. Lots of places that you cannot normally visit will be open and lots more will have special talks and activities to help you learn more. Some places regularly open to the public will be prepared to show you things behind the scenes that you wouldn’t normally get to see. Have you always wondered what that grand old house in the centre of your town was like inside? Have you always wanted to climb that tower or find out what that pile of old stones used to be? Have you always meant to visit a country house near you but never got round to it? This is your chance a you should know that you won’t be alone. This is England’s biggest heritage festival; last year 3 million other people took that chance too.
Of course if you live in or near one of England’s many historic towns you will probably be already planning your visits. Take Cambridge , here 4 days will never be enough. All sorts of buildings are open for Heritage Open Days from the award winning modern splendour of the Sainsbury Laboratory to the Victorian Workhouse. You can visit churches, a mosque, libraries and college gardens aplenty, museums, art galleries, burial grounds and sports clubs. You can see inside the Senate House, the Council Chamber, the Fire Station, the ADC theatre, John Lewis and the Cambridge University Press. You can choose any one of 5 talks or 9 guided walks. My personal favourite will be to see inside Brooklands, the country home of the Foster family, prominent citizens of Cambridge in the early 19th century, architectural patrons and owners of 3 mills and a bank. Brooklands is opened by Historic England, whose offices these are.
Not all of us are so lucky but don’t underestimate your area’s historic treasures. Look at Consett in County Durham, better known for coal and steel and industrial decline. There are three walks to choose from just up the road in Shotley Bridge, each exploring the people and places of the area or join a guide for information and a chance to find out why this was once the swordmaking capital of Britain. Learn about sportsmen, musicians and soap stars from the area and admire the old mills and workers’ cottages as well as a fine classical church by Newcastle architect, John Dobson.
This year’s Heritage Open Days is all about the new, with a fantastic array of new events and openings and a new partnership with RIBA’s ‘Love Architecture’ campaign. Highlights nationally include opportunities to a peek into the British Film Institute’s National Archive, discover the history of the Dambusters, learn to Lindy Hop at vibrant vintage fairs or hear Jane Austen’s Emma read in one of the locations featured in the novel. Thanks to new funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, along with support from Historic England and the National Trust, Heritage Open Days is bigger than ever
There’ll be 40,000 volunteers helping out by guiding, sharing knowledge, leading activities and brewing tea. So check the HOD website to see which of the 4.600 places that are opening are near you and be nosy, just like me. Look out for the Heritage Open Day bright pink bunting all over the place from Cambridge to Consett, Bath to Barrow or Wells to Wigan from 10 to 13th September. And did I mention that all these visits can be made for free?
Go to www.heritageopendays.org.uk to find places near you and for full details.