The weekend before London Open House Weekend, the rest of the UK does exactly the same thing, with a couple of thousand venues open to visit as part of Heritage Open Days.
Due to the geographically wide-spread nature of the venues, I tend to look for a town with a couple of really interesting places, then spend the rest of the day wandering around locally, as almost all of them have a good handful of churches to visit.
Most of the venues are open on Saturday or Sunday, but some will open on the Thur and Friday as well.
Looking at just the South-East of England, my personal pick of the more than 500 venues to visit include:
(Note, I’ve tended to avoid venues that can be visited at other times, as many are offering free visits, but you can visit and pay any other time of year)
Reigate Fort – Sunday 10am-2pm
Reigate, Surrey, RH2 0HX
Although the grounds are open normally, the buildings within the fort are rarely open – except on this day.
Medieval Undercroft – Sunday 10am-4pm
Reigate, Surrey, RH2 9BS
This 15th century undercroft, at the site of Reigate’s original marketplace, is built of Reigate stone with a cobbled floor. The original use of the undercroft is a matter for debate. It is probably the basement of a former merchant’s house.
John Lewis Kingston Riverside – Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 1TE
Discover the chalk & flint vaulted cellar built c.1350 and remains of a medieval bridge c.1170 in the basement of John Lewis.
Woking Road Depot – Heritage Collections Store – Fri (booking required)
Guildford, Surrey, GU1 1QE
A rare opportunity to see objects not normally on display and hear about the important work going on behind the scenes by Guildford’s Heritage Service.
Lovelace Mausoleum – Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
Guildford, Surrey, KT24 6RL
Grade II listed building, a combination of flint, with moulded red, white and black terracotta brickwork. The interior comprises a tall and airy vault with a fine groined brick dome, similar to that found in the chapel of the nearby Horsley Towers.
Guildford Cathedral and Tower – Sat & Sun (booking needed)
Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7UP
Grade II* listed building. Climb the 249 steps up the tower for views of Guildford and beyond. Also on Saturday between 11am-3pm visit the Cathedral for a behind the scenes look as building work starts on the People’s Cathedral Project.
Abbot’s Hospital – Thur, Fri & Sat (booking needed)
Guildford, Surrey, GU1 3AJ
Grade I listed building. Jacobean almshouse, still used for its original purpose. Founded by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury and a translator of the King James Bible, Abbot’s Hospital currently has 25 residents.
Royal Holloway, University of London – Sun 11am-5pm
Egham, Surrey, TW20 0EX
Visit the spectacular Grade I Listed Founder’s Building, Picture Gallery, Chapel and grounds. The Founder’s Building is modelled on the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley. Its flamboyant architecture makes it one of the most impressive university buildings in the world.
Dorking Caves – Sat (booking needed)
Dorking, Surrey, RH4 2HQ
Part of Dorking’s system of cellars and caves cut into the soft Greensand dating back to at least the 17th century. Entrance is via a discreet doorway at street level into extensive galleries used, until recently, as wine cellars. From the wine cellars a series of steep staircases lead down deep under Butter Hill to a cave of uncertain age and purpose.
Behind the Scenes at Dorking Halls – Sat 11am-12:30pm
Dorking, Surrey, RH4 1SG
Rare opportunity to see behind the scenes of this historical venue dating from 1931. This informative tour will take in the auditoriums and stage areas, technical stores, projection and lighting rooms and much more.
Somerhill House/The Schools at Somerhill – Sun 2pm-4pm
Tonbridge, Kent, TN11 0NJ
Grade I listed Jacobean Mansion (1611), second largest Jacobean house in Kent, with a later Victorian extension.
Access to house, parkland and gardens, wonderful views of countryside.
The Milton Regis Court Hall – Fr, Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
This is an opportunity to visit a very rare example of a 15th Century Grade II listed Court Hall. There is only one other example of this type of building in Kent. The building has two cells for prisoners and a wealth of exposed original beams.
St Edward’s Presbytery – Thur, Fri, Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 9NY
This is the second time that the public will be able to see inside the newly restored St Edward’s Presbytery which was built by Augustus Welby Pugin in 1850, part of this architect’s original conception for this important Gothic revival site on the West Cliffs.
Archbishops Palace – Thur (booking needed)
Maidstone, Kent, ME15 6YE
A rare opportunity to look around this landmark building. This magnificent medieval Ragstone palace in its riverside setting was originally built as a resting place for the Archbishops of Canterbury on their way to London. It is currently used for wedding and citizenship ceremonies and by the coroner for inquests.
Western Heights North Entrance Road Tunnel – Sat & Sun (booking needed)
Dover, Kent, CT17
Built in the 1860s this road tunnel provided pedestrian and vehicular access to the Western Heights military defences, but was closed in 1967. Visitors will be able to see the huge tanks that fed water to the nearby barracks, view the drawbridge and descend into the gunrooms and casemates that housed guns to fire along the dry brick-lined moats.
Grand Shaft Staircase – Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
Dover, Kent, CT17 9BZ
Triple spiral staircase built 1803-1809 connecting the Grand Shaft barracks on the cliff top with Snargate Street at sea level.
Dover College – Sat & Sun 11am & 2pm
Dover, Kent, CT17 9RH
Dover College was founded in 1871 on the site of the 12th century St Martin’s Priory. The medieval refectory, gatehouse, chapel and cloister survive. Tours leave from the Main Gate.
Winchester Cathedral – Thur, Fri, Sat & Sun (booking required)
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 9LS
For the first time, Cathedral guides will be offering tours of the Cathedral Close, including buildings not normally open to the public. The tour itinerary will vary depending on the day and time of the tour as access to certain areas is restricted.
Serle’s House – Thur & Fri (booking needed)
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 8GQ
The house was built around 1732 and is a good example of the English Baroque style of architecture. You will have the opportunity to view the entrance, main staircase and reception rooms on your visit, which house paintings and period items from both the military and County Council collections.
King Alfred Heritage Bus & Coach Display – Sat 10am-3pm
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 7AB
Up to 14 buses and coaches formerly operated by King Alfred Motor Services in and around Winchester will be on display. These can very rarely be seen together in one place at the same time.
Admiralty Experimental Works – Sat (booking required)
Gosport, Hampshire, PO12 2AG
A rare opportunity to take a guided walk of the hydrodynamic and maritime life support facilities at QinetiQ’s Haslar site, formerly the Admiralty Experiment Works. This includes Edmund Stroude’s experimental ship tank; RN coastal gun boats; Victorian gun boat yard.
HMS Collingwood Heritage Collection Fri (booking required)
Fareham, Hampshire, PO14 1AS
A rare opportunity to take a guided tour of the HMS Collingwood Heritage Collection. The Collection consists, mainly, of Royal Navy Wireless and Radar equipment from the 1890s to the 1980s.
Cable Hut – Thur, Fri, Sat & Sun 11am-4pm
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 4AR
The Cable Hut was built in 1911 as a telegraph relay station between London and France. The cables were cut during WWII and the hut turned into a gun emplacement.
It is now privately owned but visitors will be able to see old photographs of its history and evidence of the cable that ran to France.
The Old Bishop’s Palace – Sat 10am-4pm
Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4EW
Visitors will be able to have a guided tour of the first two floors of the 15th century Palace of the Bishops of Ely. See the interior of the medieval gatehouse, the richly decorated chapel and the Tudor long gallery, and learn about the bishops as well as the prisoners incarcerated in the Palace in Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
Glassworks – Thur 10:15am tour (booking needed)
Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, PE16 6NN
Visits are by tour only to view a glassmaker and designer at work. There will be a demonstration and a chance to find out more about the glassmaker’s art. Visitors will see how a piece of glass is blown and shaped into a contemporary piece of art
Bow Brickhill Church and Tower – Sun 10am-4:30pm
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK17 9LQ
The church and tower are open for stunning views over the city and surrounding countryside. Old photographs, documents and extracts of church registers will be on display.
The Gothic Temple – Sat & Sun 10:30am-4pm
Buckingham, Buckinghamshire, MK18 5DF
The Gothic Temple is a 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.
Admission to Gothic Temple is free and on Sat the National Trust is not charging for entry to the site. Please note, on Sunday normal NT entrance prices apply.
Avon Valley Railway Yard and Workshop Tour – Sat & Sun 11am-3:30pm
Bitton, Bristol, BS30 6HD
Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the yard and workshop and discover more about how they care for the locomotives and carriages.
St James’s Church – Fri, Sat & Sun 11am-4pm
Reading, Berkshire, RG1 3FD
The Church is Pugin’s very first church design. Built in the Norman style it is a rarity among Pugin’s designs. Completed in 1840, it was among the first Catholic churches to be built in England after the Reformation and is sited over the ruins of Reading Abbey.
Reading Synagogue – Sun 2pm-4pm
Reading, Berkshire, RG1 7YB
Grade II listed building. A traditional synagogue in a Moorish style opened on 31st October 1900 and still in regular use. Talk to be given on the history of Jewry in Reading.
Museum of English Rural Life Behind the Scenes Tour Thur & Fri (booking needed)
Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5EX
See and learn more about the listed building, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and the MERL and Special Collections archive stores. There will also be a chance to learn more about the newly developed museum, due to open in October 2016.
Colne Valley Postal History Museum Sat 10am-4pm
Halstead, Essex, CO9 2AZ
Fascinating private postal museum, winner of Shed of the Year 2012, with 130 British post boxes plus 9 French and examples from Hong Kong, Eire, Channel Islands etc. Working stamp vending machines, dressing up in old postal uniforms , try out the post office bicycles! Model railway running. Toilets not suitable for disabled. Refreshments, sales table, philately corner.
Only public open day in 2016.