Behind the Scenes at the Museum

You know that sign: whether you’re in a hotel or museum, there’s always a door marked “Private” or “Staff only”. Have you ever been tempted to turn the handle and have a quick peak behind closed doors? If so, you’re in for a treat this month, as between September 12–15 over 4400 events invite you to indulge your curiosity as part of Heritage Open Days, when venues of every style and function, from castles to city halls, factories to football clubs, open their doors for Britain’s most popular heritage festival. With many places unlocking areas that are usually off-limits, it’s a chance to experience what goes on behind the scenes as well as discovering the countless treasures hidden away in offices, workshops or strongrooms. Here’s my pick of some of this year’s highlights:

Drama queens

Can you remember where ABBA’s Waterloo made Eurovision history? Take a backstage tour of Brighton Dome and learn how George IV’s exotic stable block mutated into the south coast’s leading arts venue. Up north, drama awaits you at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House in Newcastle. Go beneath the boards to discover the unique Victorian under-stage machinery as well as those who have been treading the boards over the past 146 years. Or soak in the Art Deco atmosphere at Stockport’s Super Cinema and Variety Theatre, the last surviving example of its genre in the UK, and enjoy tours, film and organ presentations.

Collection wonders

Don’t miss a rare opportunity to see collection highlights at the Ashmolean Museum’s Western Art Print Room or join Southend Museums Service for an exclusive close-up look at their handbag and shoe collections. Discover the complexities of installing an exhibition with the Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s technical team or explore the state-of-the-art stores at No. 1 Smithery at Chatham’s Historic Dockyard, which holds one of the finest ship model collections in the world. And if you ever wondered where the water comes from that feeds Bath’s Pump Room, there’s a chance to find out on one of the tunnel tours at the Roman Baths.

Made in Britain

Church’s shoe stores can be found in places as far as Hong Kong. But why not travel to Northampton to see where Church’s footware has been manufactured for over 300 years? Or watch clay being thrown, fired and decorated at Emma Bridgewater’s world famous pottery factory in Stoke-on-Trent. Then drive on to Derbyshire to tour David Mellor’s award-winning cutlery factory or check out Wesley-Barrell’s upholstery workshop in Oxfordshire, where you’ll be taken through the stages of making a classic English sofa. 

Finally, you can take a behind-the-scenes peak at various branches of the BEEB to see local radio and tv being made. And talking of broadcasting, we’ve got a couple of videos in store, Paper Story and New World, created by two Met Film School graduates. Watch, enjoy and share!