The London Open House Weekend that isn’t in London, and lasts more than a weekend has published its catalogue of venues that plan to open this year.

Officially, Heritage Open Days is four days of buildings opening their doors to the general public to have a look around and takes place throughout the UK, except London.

Well, most of London is excluded — a few bits that still like to think of themselves as Surrey join in.

Last year there were over 800 venues to visit in the South-East of England, but this year that deems to have been severely cut back to a “mere” 500 venues. Even worse, the vast majority of the venues remaining on the list also happen to be local churches, which are nice, but rarely worth a special trip.

My personal tip is to find a venue or a town that interests you and then make a day of it in that area.

Last year I spent a very enjoyable day in Guildford, having also popped into the incredible art-deco electricity control room in Woking — which isn’t on the itinerary this year, although it usually gets added on later — so fingers crossed.

Sadly, my personal picks of the best is about half the size of last year’s list, but here it is:

Guildford Cathedral and Tower

Grade II* listed building. Climb the 249 steps up the tower for wonderful views of Guildford and beyond.

Requires booking

The Bentall Centre – Back of House Tour – Kingston upon Thames

OK, just a shopping centre, but fairly rare for non-employees to be let in behind the scenes.

Requires booking

Behind the Scenes at Chichester Cathedral

Areas of the Cathedral normally closed to the public will be open to visitors. The Song School located high up in the Cathedral’s triforium and reached by a winding spiral staircase is where the Cathedral choir practice twice daily.

Just turn up

Abbot’s Hospital – Guildford

Amazing old hospital and alms houses — guided tours into most of the main rooms, but beware of long queues. I visited it last year.

Just turn up

Royal Holloway, University of London – Egham

Visit the spectacular Grade I listed Founder’s Building, Picture Gallery, Chapel and extensive grounds.

Just turn up

Air Raid Shelter and Static Engine Collection –  Dorking

Visit and discuss home-built air raid shelter made of concrete in 1940. Also a collection of internal combustion engines from 1899 to 1950 and machine tools of similar age

Just turn up

Chatley Heath Semaphore Tower – Cobham

The tower was once part of a chain which was used to pass messages between the Admiralty in Whitehall and the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth. It was built in 1822 and is now the only restored surviving tower in a line of signalling stations that stretched from London to Portsmouth.

Just turn up — note is a 20 minute walk from car park to the tower.

The Archbishops’ Palace – Maidstone

An exclusive opportunity to view this landmark building. This magnificent medieval Ragstone Palace in its riverside setting provided a resting place for the Archbishops of Canterbury on their way to London. Now the Kent Register Office.

Just turn up

Grand Shaft Staircase – Dover

Annual opening of this exceptional triple spiral staircase built 1803-1809 connecting the Grand Shaft barracks on the cliff top with Snargate Street at sea level.

Just turn up

Romsey Signal Box – Hampshire

Historic signal box c.1865, working museum with levers and bells, open to the public. Added because it is about to close for 2 years.

Just turn up

The Gothic Temple – Milton Keynes

The Gothic Temple is a splendid historic folly built in the gardens at Stowe in 1741. Inside the rooms are all circular with the main vault of the central space painted with heraldry and to be on the first floor gallery is an important architectural experience.

Just turn up — have to pay to get into the park first.

Horlicks Factory – Slough

The Horlicks Factory is one of Slough’s most iconic historic buildings which was completed in 1908 for James Horlick. During Heritage Open Day there will be one tour of the small museum, archives and the beautiful Art Deco Board room completed in 1927.

Booking needed. Caroline visited it


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  1. Katja Condy says:

    Hi Ian, Thanks for reviewing our programme. Please keep checking our directory at for your personal highlights. Registration for this year’s event only closes on 1 August, and we’re ploughing through the entries as fast as we can to update the listings daily. Some hubs are yet to come. And to set your record straight, 154 out of 637 currently registered entries are faith buildings;-) Hope you have a great Heritage Open Days weekend this year. We’d love to hear about your trip. Katja

  2. margaret jackson says:

    So glad you enjoyed Guildford last year. if going to Abbots hospital in the High Street, it is easy to pop in to some other gems, Guildford House, the Guildhall and the Undercroft.
    We do have some wonderful village churches in the Guildford surrounds, Heritage Open day is a good time to visit one or two, there are always knowledgeable volunteers on hand to greet you and quite often, lovely refreshments!
    My pick would be Albury old church, with wall painting, interesting monuments, a chapel designed in Gothic revival style by Pugin and all in a beautiful setting with easy parking.

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