3,500 Properties Open Doors To Public For Heritage Open Days 2008

By Dan James | 02 September 2008
Picture of a stately house built of red brick

Shaw House in Newbury, Berkshire is not normally open to the public. © English Heritage

Heritage Open Days 2008 - from September 11 - 14.

If you have ever felt yourself acting like a nosey neighbour then four days in September will give you the opportunity to fulfil your mooching dreams.

Imagine choosing from over 3,500 properties to help quell your inquisitive instincts and doing it totally free of charge. Heritage Open Days invites you to do just that.

Heritage Open Days is England’s largest free cultural event. Co-ordinated by The Civic Trust and supported by English Heritage the national showcase takes place between September 11-14 2009. Buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors, ranging from castles to factories and barns to Buddhist temples.

The main principle of this cultural extravaganza is that each featured event is totally free. Access is provided to interesting properties that are either not usually open, or would normally charge an entrance fee.

Philip Kolvin, Chairman of the Civic Trust, said: “Visitors are invited into places that are otherwise private, to meet people who live or work there, or who know the history of the place better than anyone else. Buildings may be fascinating and awe-inspiring because of their beauty, style or status, but it is the stories they can tell, which make them dearer and bring them closer to us.”

This festival of knowledge has something for just about everybody whether interested in history, science, architecture or agriculture. Established in 1994 as England’s contribution to European Heritage Days the scale of the annual event has grown to the point where this year around 35,000 volunteers will be involved across the country.

a photograph of a multitude of bones stacked neatly

Banwell Bone Cave, Weston Super Mare, Somerset. © English Heritage

The Heritage Open Days website at www.heritageopendays.org.uk is a great place to start searching for what is available in your local area. An event directory allows you to search by postcode, county or even a particular interest such as castles, nature reserves or religious related sites.

With such an abundance of venues and activities available it can be a little daunting choosing something. However a little time spent researching will almost certainly provide a unique experience not far from your very own doorstep.

Events reach far and wide in the programme and although the diversity of what is on offer is hugely impressive we have chosen a few examples to demonstrate how different interests can be catered for:

a black and white photograph of the interior of a warehouse

Behind the scenes at the Blackpool illuminations © English Heritage

Lewes Crown Court, Sussex
The court was built in 1812 and is a working building open to hear Crown Court Cases throughout the year. This is the one day each year when people can look around the court rooms, underground prison cells and other areas normally closed to the public.

Visitors will be able to meet Judges, Police, Prison Officers, Scenes of Crime Officers and Barristers. There will be prison vans, birds of prey (who keep pigeons off the roves of Lewes prison) and Police Dogs amongst other attractions.

Digging For Victory, Kent
Join Mark Harrison, landscape investigator, on a journey illustrating Kent’s involvement in the wars and conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. From a panoramic position near Whitstable, participants will gain a unique insight into the construction of Nelson’s Fleet. The development of Second World War RADAR and anti-invasion defences are also covered as well as the threat posed to Britain during the Cold War.

Shaw House, Berkshire
There will be a rare opportunity to see Shaw House in Newbury. The site, which is not normally open to the public, is the largest Elizabethan manor house in Berkshire. It was built in 1581 and has recently undergone a £6million restoration with a remarkable amount of the original house surviving. You can see the first floor room in which a bullet narrowly missed King Charles I during the second battle of Newbury in 1644. There is an exhibition about the history of the house and hands-on activities for families.

Arther Dooley’s Studio, Merseyside
A rare opportunity to view the last studio used by the famous Liverpool Sculptor Arthur Dooley. Dooley was instrumental in re-founding the Liverpool Academy of Arts and worked in the basement of 36 Seel Street until his death in 1994. Since then, the studio has remained virtually untouched and various examples of work in progress can be seen, including his last large piece; Miss El Salvador.

a photograph of the interior of a workshop

Arthur Dooley's studio in Liverpool has remained virtually untouched since the famous sculptor died in 1994. © English Heritage

EcoDIY, Essex
Inspect a DIY bungalow in Clacton On Sea which is working towards urban self sufficiency. The homeowners have slashed their carbon footprint by using recycled water and other low energy products. They grow organic vegetables and have their own chickens and bees proving it is possible to live The Good Life.

Danish Seaman’s Church, Hull
There has been a Danish Seaman’s church in Hull for 150 years. The church tells a story of the links between Hull and Denmark, between the Danish and British fisherman and sailors. There will be a chance to try Danish Food and buy Danish Products.

Nanoscience & Quantum Information Centre, Bristol
Join a guided tour around the newly opened specialist laboratories. The building offers extremely low levels of acoustic noise, vibration and air movements and provides a world class facility for scientific research. The studies to be carried out in the building will offer opportunities for the development of future computing, communications and health technologies. Vibration and noise levels will be amongst the lowest achieved in the world.

Last year, Heritage Open Days attracted nearly one million visitors. With 90 per cent of the population living within 30 minutes of a Heritage Open Days event, more and more people are taking part.

In the words of Griff Rhys Jones, the newly elected President of the Civic Trust who is backing the scheme: "I love exploring unknown buildings. I love to get right inside places which seem forbidden. This is a gift - the greatest idea and the hugest fun. What a fantastic opportunity for all, and how excellent that so many take advantage of it."

See www.heritageopendays.org.uk to find out what you can discover during Heritage Open Days 2008.

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