Heritage Open Days (HOD) is billed by the organisers as “England’s largest festival of history and culture, bringing together over 2,000 local people and organisations, and thousands of volunteers.”
This year’s festival theme is ‘edible England’ with lots of events involving food: making, tasting and learning the history of traditional recipes.
Originally the brainchild of the Council of Europe and the EU’s European Commission, the festival’s aim is to raise appreciation of Europe’s cultural and historic heritage. In England, the open days have taken place every September since 1994 and it has since grown into the largest festival of its kind in the country.
Special Heritage Days events
One of the unique features of the open days is that it includes buildings and monuments that are normally closed to the public. For a few days every September, they throw open their doors to the public. Others which normally charge for entrance, may be free. The festival has grown to over 5,500 events, including some that are now online.
Whether you’re interested in architecture, history, or are just plain curious, it’s fun and interesting to get an opportunity to see inside, or wander around the grounds of familiar buildings you’ve only ever seen from the outside.
HOD provides an opportunity to learn about the history of buildings and the people associated with them. Volunteers are often on hand to provide information and answer questions. Many are offering guided tours, though you need to check to see if they require booking in advance. The open days give you the excuse to explore an area, town or village you haven’t been to before. Many events include activities for children to keep them engaged. Some events are specifically put on with young people in mind.
Digital (online) events
If you’re unable to get out, the Open Days also include online ‘Digital Events’ which they ran for the first time last year, and proved very successful. As the HOD website explains, these events allow you to “experience virtual tours and take part in online discussions as well as visiting historic places and green spaces in person. This means visitors can just as easily explore events across England, as those on their doorsteps.”
To give you an idea of what’s available, here’s a sample of the hundreds of events going on in East Anglia over the coming week. You can find links to events in each county at the end. Do make sure you check each listing on the HOD website, as many events need advanced booking.
Scare your friends by making Ghastly Gargoyles!
The Norwich Historic Churches Trust Ltd, St. Martin At Palace Centre, 15 St. Martin At Palace Plain, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1RW
Learn about fantastic beasts and where to find them… in the architecture of historic churches. Create your own scary clay beastie to take home, and design medieval heraldry using animal symbolism. Activities are open to all but most suitable for children aged 6-12.
Sunday 12 September: 12.00 – 16.00
Sustainable Fashion from Traditional Textiles
The Old Skating Rink Gallery, 34-36 Bethel Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 1NR
Learn from past traditions to create a more sustainable future with this beautiful textile workshop in a Victorian skating rink.
Saturday 18 September: 8 bookable sessions between 11.00 – 15.00
Campfire Cooking and more with the Girl Guides
Patteson Activity Centre, Patteson Lodge, Patteson Lodge, 14 Gt. Hautbois Road, Coltishall, Norwich, Norfolk, NR12 7JN
From tin foil treats to afternoon tea, see just how much you can really cook on a campfire at one of these special sessions. Then, when you’ve had your fill, walk it off with a wander about the beautiful estate, look for the mosaics or even try the geocaching trail.
Saturday 18 September: 1300-1600
Sunday 19 September: 1000-1600
Knapped Flint, Cracked Concrete
King Street and Market Place, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 2PY
A new experience this year, the sounds and stories of the streets are brought to life in these special new artistic commissions. Best experienced as you walk the area, but also worth checking out if you’re nostalgic for the town you once knew, or want a taste of a new place!
Wander the ancient walled town of Great Yarmouth and hear how its streets have changed, with stories from its medieval cathedral to modern market traders. (ARTIST: Oliver Payne)
The walk is recorded, so you can do it any time. High Street Sound Walks are available via the Historic England website from today: listen any time via your smartphone or other personal device. Duration: 33 minutes
Haunting tales in Lowestoft
Historic High Street, Lowestoft, Suffolk
At England’s most easterly point take a walk with a historian to explore this town’s ghostly tales, folklore and legends before exploring its history of witchcraft at this enlightening exhibition.
Friday 17 September: Session One: 14:00-15:30 / Session Two: 18:00-19:30
Ipswich School, 25 Henley Road, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3SG
Historic 19th and 20th Century school buildings, including a Chapel with Victorian stained glass and a Library with stained glass windows by John Piper.
Ipswich School has evolved over more than six centuries and is the only school mentioned in Shakespeare. It’s the reigning monarch is the school’s Visitor. The Headmaster will conduct the tours and take you through the history of the school as he shows you the areas of interest.
Saturday 11 September: Tours 0900, 1000 and 1100
Community Allotment Open Gardens, Cambridgeshire
Whitehill Allotment Society, The Community Garden, Elfleda Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB5 8LZ
For National Allotment week, pop along and take a tour of this community garden, run by and for local homeless and vulnerably housed people. See and hear how they created their beach themed show garden and secret bramble walkway as well as cultivating their vegetable plots.
Saturday 18 September: 10:00-16:00
St John’s Abbey Gatehouse
St John’s Green, Colchester, Essex, CO2 7HA
The Gatehouse is one of Colchester’s most important medieval buildings which has overlooked St John’s Green for over six hundred years. It was built as an expression of the abbey’s wealth and power.
Saturday 11 September: 13:00 – 16:00
Saturday 18 September: 13:00 – 16:00
Historic Harwich Walk
Ha’ Penny Pier Visitor Centre, The Quay, Harwich, Essex, CO12 3HH
Guided walking tour lasting approximately 90 minutes. Five centuries of history concentrated on the Harwich Town area. Meet at Ha’ Penny Pier Visitor Centre on the Ha’penny Pier.
Saturday 11 September: 14:00-15:30
The Stained Glass Museum
Ely Cathedral, South Triforium, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4DL
Find out more about the art of making stained glass.
Housed in the evocative South Triforium of Ely Cathedral, we are the only museum dedicated to the art of stained glass in the country. View our many stunning stained glass windows, which date from 1200 to the present day.
Friday 17 September: 6.30-8pm
Artists and Gardeners: A Tour of Edible Highlights from Newnham College’s Art Collection and Garden
Newnham College, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB3 9DF
This tour includes an introduction to paintings from Newnham’s art collection depicting edible delights and continues with a visit to the College’s new permaculture Food Forest Garden and ‘Incredible Edible’ potager beds.
Thursday 16 September: 11:00-12:15
The Walled Garden at Luton Hoo Estate
Luton Hoo Estate, Luton, Bedfordshire, LU1 4LF
The Walled Garden opens its doors to reveal the incredible work of the Volunteer Project to continue to rejuvenate and revitalise this historic Capability Brown designed octagonal Walled Garden throughout the current crisis.
Wednesday 15 September: 10:30 – 14:30
BFI Film & Television Archive Open Day
B F I National Archive, Kingshill Way, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, HP4 3TP
See the specialist skills, technology and vaults preserving the film and TV heritage of the nation. We’ll be hosting talks, demos, exhibits and mini-tours, all celebrating the National Collection and those integral to making it a world-class archive
Saturday 11 September: 14:00-15:30
Mill Green Museum & Mill
Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service, Mill Green Museum & Mill, Mill Green, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL9 5PD
Join us as we look back at over a thousand years of English food and history at the site of our working water mill! Craft your own bouquet garni, discover our timeline of recipes, and take home some freshly milled flour and local honey.
Sunday 12 September: 1400-1700, drop in
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