Heritage Open Days - England’s biggest heritage festival – takes place from 6-9 September, with over 4,600 events popping up everywhere from stately homes to shepherds huts. Annabelle Thorpe from Heritage Open Days shares her top quirky events taking place across the country…
1. Oxford Union, Oxford
A rare chance for art lovers to see inside the debating chamber, library and courtyard of the Oxford Union, famed for its Pre-Raphaelite murals, including work by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Open Saturday 10am-4pm.
2. North Leverton Windmill, Notts
North Leverton proves that windmills aren’t just historic monuments; it has been constantly in use for the last 200 years. For Heritage Open Days the windmill will open from 12-4pm on Saturday and Sunday, with go-karting, archery, a bouncy castle and the chance for kids to make their own scarecrow.
3. Priory Steps, Bradford on Avon
Forget Lewis Hamilton, ninety years ago Mrs Victor Bruce was breaking all the land speed records, being the first woman to win the Monte Carlo rally and holder of more than 18 world records for speed. Her home, Priory Steps, opens up on Sat & Sun, 1pm-5pm, with an exhibition on her life.
4. Martello Towers, Suffolk
Between 1805 and 1812, 103 towers were built along the coast from Sussex to Suffolk to protect England from Napoleon’s invading hordes. Join a guided walk between the towers and see inside one of the few remaining Martello Towers, opened specially for Heritage Open Days. Sunday, 10am-4pm.
5. Here’s Heritage, Reading
There’s more to Heritage Open Days than historic buildings; in Reading the whole town centre goes retro on Saturday, with market stalls selling vintage clothing, dance acts performing the lindy hop, jitterbug and jive and live jazz and swing music.
6. Barford Shepherd’s Hut, Norfolk
Proof that size isn’t everything, Barford may be a tiny property but it gives a great insight into rural life as lived in the 1800s. Voted no 6 in Radio 4’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, the hut is not normally open to the public, but can be visited on all four days, with hands on activities for kids.
7. Calke Abbey, Derby
Vintage car lovers should head to spectacular Calke Abbey, a National Trust owned-property that will be opening for free on Sat, 10.30am-5pm. The Federation of British Historical Vehicles Clubs and Porsche GB Club will be holding a rally at the Abbey, with dozens of vintage cars to drool over.
8. Darwin Brewery, Sunderland
Ale-drinks are in for a treat when the Darwin Brewery opens its doors from Thurs-Sun; go along to the tasting session on Thursday evening (pre-booking essential) or the Historic Ales Beer Festival on the Saturday, with ale-themed games and activities alongside plenty of pints.
9. Newman Brothers Coffin Fittings Works, Birmingham
It might sound like a strange day out, but kids will love this semi-derelict factory, which offers all sorts of activities on Sat & Sun, including brass rubbing, dressing up in Victorian costume and the chance to ‘decorate’ your own coffin. In association with Tin Box Theatre, there will be live music and performances during the day.
10. Medway Queen, Rochester
The last estuary pleasure steamer in the UK, the Medway Queen fell into disuse in the 1960’s but has been restored thanks to Lottery Funding. From Thurs-Sunday the workshops will be opening their doors, giving a unique insight into the techniques behind refitting the boat.