I readily admit it; I am nosy. I love discovering what’s behind closed doors, and chancing upon some secret part of history thrills me as much as a bargain at a car boot sale. You can relate to that? Then you’ll love Heritage Open Days; the perfect excuse to unashamedly indulge your curiosity. The event runs from 6–9 September, and with some 4,600 sites and events hosted by England’s regions, it’s Britain’s largest celebration of local architecture, history and culture. Many of the venues are normally closed to the public, others usually charge for admission. And thrown into the mix are activities and events that celebrate the stories and heritage that make our villages, towns and cities special. I happen to manage this programme. It’s a dream job as I get a preview of what you’ll be able to experience over a very special weekend. Here is my selection of this year’s hotspots.
Start with an adventure; explore Redcliffe Caves, a labyrinth of mines that produced the red sand for the local glass industry. The glass manufacturing tradition is still alive. Watch the famous Bristol Blue Glass being made and maybe even have a go at glass blowing yourself. Alternatively, step inside St Vincent’s Works; a symphony of stained glass, iron work, mosaics and tiles. The all-white, sleekly functional Concrete House couldn’t be more of a contrast, a must for Le Corbusier fans.
Discover Yorkshire’s commercial heart with a behind the scenes tour of the M&S Company Archive, which only recently returned to the city. Alternatively, grab the chance to see inside the vacated Art Deco building of Carlsberg Tetley’s former headquarters. Plans are underway to transform the space into a contemporary art gallery.
In terms of quirkiness, Birmingham certainly has the edge. Where else can you see a preserved Victorian coffin fittings factory and a room jam-packed with all shapes of pens and other paraphernalia of Birmingham’s once world-leading pen trade? By way of contrast, drop in to Winterbourne House, an Arts and Crafts villa set in 7 acres of beautiful botanic gardens.
Oxford is host to the largest Heritage Open Days event in the country, and it’s not surprising that the colleges should play a big part in it. Designed by Arne Jacobson, St Catherine’s College on its 50th anniversary is still a pretty cool place, while traditionalists will be wowed by the Pre-Ralphaelite murals in the Old Library of Oxford Union.
Norfolk’s capital boasts many hidden treasures. Take Edwardian Surrey House, one of the most opulent office buildings I’ve ever seen. Or Maddermarket Theatre, which houses the first permanent reconstruction of an Elizabethan stage. And what about that Gertrude Jekyll inspired garden that hides behind the Bear Shop? Take a break at Adam and Eve, one of Norwich’s oldest pubs.
I could go on, but you can discover your own highlights by browsing our Go Explore pages. And don’t forget to post a comment after your visit. I’d be curious to know what you think.
Katja Condy manages the Heritage Open Days project – find out more at www.heritageopendays.org.uk