Top picks for Heritage Open Days 2015

by Katie Rowe

Category: Expert insights
September 8 2015

It’s Heritage Open Days time again (September 10-13), when thousands of historic buildings open their doors to the public, with talks, tours, vintage fairs and even silent discos taking place across towns, villages and cities. Best of all, every single event is free – so check out the event database at and start planning your weekend.  Here are 10 reccommended events courtesy of Heritage Open Days...

The baroque interior of Wilton House in Wiltshire

Wilton House, Salisbury, Wiltshire – new for 2015

Discover one of England’s most opulent country estates; the spectacular 17th century mansion has a world-famous art collection which includes renowned painters such as van Dyck, Pieter Brueghel, Rembrandt van Rijn and Richard Wilson. Outside, you’ll find over 22 acres of parkland and gardens in England's South West, bordered by the rivers Wylye and Nadder, perfect for picnicking.  Kids will love the fantastic Adventure Playground where children of all ages can let off steam, with a special area reserved for the under-fives. House: Thurs 11:30-5pm. Gardens: Thurs 11-5.30pm, Sat and Sun 11-5pm.

Silent Disco on Hastings Pier, East Sussex – new for 2015

Get a shimmy on – silently of course –  while learning the history of Hastings Pier,  told through its musical soundtrack.  A team of pop music historians and researchers have worked to discover what got people jiving, jigging, hopping, rockn' and rolling through the decades, bringing the pop culture heritage of the pier to life. Hear the soundtrack through earphones as you walk or dance on the pier. Thursday - Friday 5pm-6pm (pre-booking essential).

A close-up of the Weeping Window of poppies

Poppies: Weeping Window, Northumberland – new for 2015

The Woodhorn Museum is the first time people will be able to see the spectacular Weeping Window of poppies, since it was part of the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London. The Weeping Window will cascade 55ft over the iconic winding wheel, No 1. Headgear – an instantly recognisable symbol of the industrial heritage of the region and will provide a dramatic new backdrop to the work. Saturday - Sunday 10am - 5pm.

Clog Dancing, Blackburn – new for 2015

Six clog dancing teams from the region will descend on Blackburn for a day of dance at Sudell Cross on Saturday. On Sunday, Blackburn's newly trained clog dancing apprentices from St Thomas's school, winners of the Blackburn BID's heritage festival competition will perform. The children will show off their dancing skills with tutor, Alex Fisher, Lancashire's clog dancing expert. Saturday 10:30am-12pm and 2pm-4pm, Sunday 12pm-1pm.

A costumed character sits in front of a tudor feast at the Elizabethan House

Elizabethan House Museum, Great Yarmouth – free to visit

As part of Heritage Open Days, hundreds of National Trust properties open for free, including the Elizabethan House. This handsome 16th-century home invites you into the lives of the families who lived here from Tudor through to Victorian times, giving a real feel for day to day domestic life with rich period settings and evocative sounds and smells – especially in the kitchen!  There will be special family activities including a museum trail and the chance to make a Tudor Rose or First World War poppy. Thursday - Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday 11am-4pm.

WWF Living Planet Centre, Surrey

Take a behind the scenes tour of one of the greenest buildings in the country, and discover how the building links to the World Wildlife Fund’s conservation work around the world. Families can join one of the kid-friendly workshops in the Learning Zone to design and make a model of their own sustainable building, or join the self-guided family trail linking the Living Planet Centre to The Lightbox, a pioneering art gallery, museum and cafe. Saturday 11am-5pm. 

Film reels piled up high at BFI National Archive

BFI National Archive, Berkhamstead, Herts

Have you ever wondered how the BFI preserves the nation’s film and television collections? As part of the Heritage Open Days, the BFI National Archive will open its doors for a series of free tours. These tours will provide rare public access to the specialist skills, technology and stores which support the conservation of the BFI National Collection. Thursday - Sunday. Tours every hour from 10am to 3pm – pre-booking necessary.

A Tour of Amberley Castle, Amberley, Sussex – new for 2015

An exclusive opportunity to explore 900 years of history at Amberley Castle, now a luxury five-star hotel. Step into a time capsule and discover the intricate coats of armour that tell the tales of previous owners and the fine fabrics that sit alongside beautiful antiques. Highlights include the 12th century Queen’s Room and 12 acres of landscaped gardens, usually only accessible to hotel guests. Experts will guide you around the castle and grounds, giving a unique insight into its distinctive history. Sunday tours at 10.30am and 3pm (pre-booking necessary).

A group of visitors watch live excavations at Westgate in Oxford

Westgate Excavations, Oxford – new for 2015

A unique opportunity to explore the largest ever archaeological excavations in Oxford, with a chance to meet the archaeologists and handle finds from the site. See the Greyfriars Abbey beneath your feet and learn how medieval residents lived and even what they had for dinner. The latest discoveries will be on display and everyone can help survey the site and learn how archaeologists do their job, use their microscopes and survey kit. There’s even a souvenir booklet to take home. Saturday 10am-4pm.

Hippodrome Heritage, Birmingham – new for 2015

Join the team to help celebrate the incredible history of Birmingham Hippodrome. Uncover a myriad of stories spanning over 116 years – covering two world wars, five monarchs and four facelifts. There will be heritage theatre tours and talks throughout the day, a pop-up archive and a chance to explore original archive materials. Come and share your Hippodrome memories and get the kids involved in family activities. Saturday 10am-4pm.

Uncover more of England’s rich history on a heritage break this autumn...

Katie Rowe

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