Heritage Open Days is an annual event in England, when hundreds of buildings, or parts of buildings, that are not normally open to the public, open their doors for a few days in September. This year that’s 9-18 September 2022.
It has become England’s largest grass roots heritage festival involving over 40,000 volunteers and 5,000 events, and it’s all free.
Many/most of the venues are historic buildings such as churches (there’s a lot of those), civic buildings, country mansions, civil engineering sites (pumping stations, tunnels, factory buildings), and private buildings (homes, clubs, masonic lodges).
Some are just open to anyone wanting to wander in. Others are timed tours and need to be booked in advance. Booking usually opens around now.
You can search geographically or by keyword, here.
But, I’ve put together a list of 25 venues that I think may be of interest to Mechtraveller readers…
|Bridging the Tamar Anchorage and Under the Bridge tour (Plymouth)||A unique opportunity to walk directly beneath the road deck of the Tamar Bridge. Visitors also have the chance to view inside the underground anchorage chamber at the foot of the Tamar Bridge and learn more about this award-winning structure. (You may need a head for heights… and depths, for this one!)|
|Port of Hull – Associated British Ports Tour (Hull)||A behind-the-scenes tour of the 3,000 acre docks.|
|Cable Hut 14 (Seaford, East Sussex)||A 1900 relay station for communications from London to France. War damaged and restored as a beach hut. Displays and artefacts of the cable history and the significance of today’s Cable Industry.|
|King George V Pumping Station (Enfield, London)||One of Thames Water’s historic sites. Designed to pump water from the River Lee into the King George V reservoir, the building houses three old disused gas Humphrey pumps, and two electric pumps currently in service. The buildings in the complex were opened in 1913 and were designed by William Booth Bryan for the Metropolitan Water Board.|
|Former RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine – man carrying centrifuge (Farnborough)||We’ve all seen the centrifuge scene in ‘Space Cowboys’, well this was the RAF’ version’ between 1955 – 2019, capable of twirling a man/woman at 30 revolutions per minute (equivalent to 9G) to gain a better understanding of how ‘G-forces’ affect the human body and to develop the countermeasures required to equip RAF front-line fast jet pilots with essential life-support systems. And there’s more at Farnborough. See next…|
|Former Royal Aircraft Establishment – 24 foot Wind Tunnel Building (Farnborough)||The 24-foot wind tunnel has a mahogany fan powered by a 2000 horse power DC electric motor and could produce an airspeed of up to 112 mph. The tunnel was a world class aerodynamic testing facility, opened in 1935 and in continuous use until 1996.|
|Decontamination Suite at Greenham Air Base (Newbury, Berkshire)||A unique opportunity to gain access to the Decontamination Suite that formed part of the Cold War US Air base at Greenham Common, which was home to the US Air Force 501st Tactical Missile Wing between 1982 – 1991. Few buildings remain from this period. Greenham Control Tower is the only building now open to the public as a visitor centre. The charity has arranged special permission to open the decontamination suite within building 274 to the public.|
|Western Command – Churchill Building (University of Chester)||Churchill Building was built in 1937/38 as the headquarters for Western Command. Learn about the role it played during World War II.|
|World War II Decoy Bunker Tour (Ringwood, Dorset)||Uncover a top-secret operation involving decoys and deception to direct enemy attention away from wartime RAF airfields.|
|Sheringham Park – Pill Boxes (Norfolk)||Sheringham Park (National Trust) has two pillboxes, normally closed to the public, that were part of the defences of this section of the coast. Two slightly different designs can be seen in conjunction with other nearby defensive structures. These, along with maps of the complete defensive layouts, enable a good understanding of the plan of defence.|
|Steyning Rifle Range (West Sussex)||A rare chance to visit the Steyning Rifle Range and see how it was used for target practice by the Sussex Rifle Volunteers from 1860 onwards. There will be vintage equipment and deactivated rifles on display, of the type used at the range. The repaired targets will be in operation and the history and use of the site will be explained in detail. (This is a disused rifle range. No shooting now takes place.)|
|Wanstone Battery Rediscovered (Dover, Kent)||Wanstone Battery is a WW2 anti-aircraft battery on the cliffs overlooking Dover, and an archaeological project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, in an area not usually open to the public. Consisting of the Wanstone Battery and the Battle of Britain Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery D2, it was the largest gun battery ever built in Britain. Buried and covered in vegetation, the site needs urgent work to stabilise its condition. It is early days and the project only began in July. However, visitors will be able to find out the results of the recent archaeological work and visit the newly exposed emplacement of ‘Jane’ as well as the D2 Anti Aircraft Site.|
|Huddersfield Station (West Yorkshire)||Network Rail are opening up some private areas of this magnificent 175 year old station. (Didn’t Tim Dunn feature it in one of his ‘Architecture the Railways Built’ tv series?) You also get to see the former signal box and visit the driver’s compartment of a recently retired Pacer train.|
|Warmley Signal Box (Warmley, Bristol)||The Warmley Midland Railway Signal Box which is over 100 years old and a Grade II listed building. It is fully restored with working levers inside and the lower level open for inspection. There is also a newly installed Signal arm which can be demonstrated from the signal box.|
|Ribble Steam Railway and Furness Railway Trust Workshops (Preston, Lancashire)||This is a rare opportunity to visit two workshops using traditional skills and dedicated volunteers to bring old railway rolling stock back to life.|
|Royal Logistic Corps Museum – Archive Store Tour (Winchester)||The Royal Logistic Corps Museum is opening the doors to its archive store, offering members of the public a rare opportunity to experience their archive collection as part of a behind-the-scenes tour, led by their archivists.|
|Trafalgar Sail – National Museum of the Royal Navy (Portsmouth)||A rare chance to see the only surviving sail from the Battle of the Trafalgar. HMS Victory’s Fore Topsail was at the heart of the action, as the 90 cannon and bullet/shrapnel holes testify. It was sent, after the battle, to the sail loft in Chatham Naval Dockyard and then disappeared for 85 years. It went on display briefly in 1905 and then disappeared again. It was found in 1960 under some gym mats in a naval store at Victory barracks, and was put on display on board HMS Victory until 1992 when it was realised that it was deteriorating rapidly and needed conservation. It is now vital to keep the light, heat and humidity levels stable which means it is rarely available for public view. I was lucky, I saw it in 2019 when it was briefly on display (see the feature image above) at the museum. You should sieze this chance with both hands.|
|HMS Sultan – Aircraft Tours (Gosport, Hampshire)||HMS Sultan is the home of Defence School of Marine Engineering (DSMarE) and the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School (RNAESS). There are three heritage Open Day tours here (see below). This is a guided tour around the different aircraft used for training at HMS SULTAN. The types represent the different aircraft flown by the Royal Navy from the 1960s. Although many are no longer in active service, they still have a valuable role in training.|
|HMS Sultan – Museum Tours (Gosport, Hampshire)||A chance to visit two museums within the grounds of HMS Sultan. 1) The Airfield Museum gives the history of the surrounding area used as an airfield from 1909-1956. Learn about the world’s first “Top Gun” establishment 1917-19, and how the ‘Gosport’ method of flying training was adopted by the world. Look out for one of Gosport’s astounding inventions, ‘The Gosport Tube’. And 2) The Marine Engineering Museum gives the history of marine engineering in the Royal Navy. Displaying a collection of Records, Artefacts and Memorabilia covering Marine Engineering training in HMS Sultan, Fisgard and Caledonia from 1903 to the present day.|
|HMS Sultan – Fort Rowner Tour (Gosport, Hampshire)||A guided tour around one of the Palmerston Forts, built to defend Portsmouth from a possible French invasion. Visit the Tunnels, Caponiers, haunted Keep and Fort Museum within the grounds of the Royal Navy training establishment HMS Sultan.|
|BFI National Film & Television Archive (Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire)||See the specialist skills, technology and vaults preserving the film and TV heritage of the nation. There’ll be talks, demos, exhibits and mini-tours, all celebrating the National Collection and those integral to making it a world-class archive.|
|Berwick Lifeboat Station at Carr Rock (Spittal, Berwick-upon-Tweed)||The Berwick Lifeboat Station was first established in Spittal in 1835. Since then, it has swapped from one side of the River Tweed to the other. It remained on the Spittal side until 1901 when it transferred over to the Berwick side of the River Tweed. It was subsequently moved back to Spittal again to its present site. Explore their history and see what they do today.|
|Semaphore Tower at Hatchford Park (Cobham, Surrey)||These days it’s a Grade II listed holiday rental property (Landmark Trust’s latest project), but Semaphore Tower dates back to the Napoleonic era, when it was a state-of-the-art military communications tower – part of the signalling chain that transmitted messages from Admiralty House in London to Portsmouth Docks in just a few minutes. It is the only surviving semaphore tower in Britain and open days are the only time you’ll see the semaphore arms working.|
|Green Park Wind Turbine (Reading, Berkshire)||See the 120m tall Green Park wind turbine up close, find out what it is, what it does, how it works and experience a few experiments too.|