Over a couple of weeks in September, several thousand buildings will open their doors to the public.

This is the Heritage Open Days, a fortnight of open days that’s essentially the same thing as Open House London, but (largely) happens outside London.

Due to the geographically widespread nature of a UK-wide event, I suggest finding something that makes you go “ohhhh!”, then look around what else local is open on the same day that’s worth visiting. Lots of churches mainly, but in the larger older towns, you can easily have an entire day out.

Scanning the more than 500 places open in the South-East of England, I found the following highlights.

All are free, some need booking in advance, otherwise just turn up on the day.


Friday 13th and Saturday 14th Sept

The Guildhall

A Grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument, 1550, with later alterations and additions. Formerly a court and council chamber. Important façade added 1683 by public subscription.


Abbot’s Hospital, Guildford

Grade I listed building. Jacobean Alms-house, still used for its original purpose.


Friday 13th to Tuesday 17th Sept

St Edward’s Presbytery

A rare chance to see inside St Edward’s Presbytery, built by A. W. Pugin, designer of the Palace of Westminster, in 1850 as part of this great architect’s original conception for this exceptional Gothic Revival site on Ramsgate’s West Cliff.


Sat & Sun 14, 15, 21 & 22 Sept

The Milton Regis Court Hall Open Days

This is an opportunity to visit a very rare example of a 15th Century Grade II listed Court Hall (and very early administrative building). 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.


Martello Tower 73 – The Wish Tower

The Tower is one of 103 gun towers built on the south and east coasts of England to defend against a potential invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800s – only 43 remain.


Cable Hut

The Cable Hut is one of the most intriguing secrets of Cuckmere Haven. Most visitors wonder what this strange building is doing on the beach and are unaware of its significance. It is one of the few remaining cable stations that once lined the coast.


Saturday and Sunday 14th-15th Sept

Fernhurst Furnace Open Weekend

This is the best preserved site of a Wealden Blast Furnace site so there will be conducted tours of the site with a full explanation of the smelting operation. The Marmaduke Rawdons Regimet of Foote will demonstrate loading and firing a musket.


Sackville House

Built about 1520, this is a substantial timber-framed house with rooms of wood and lime plaster and the patina of centuries past. When you enter the yard you escape the bustle of modern day East Grinstead and find yourself in a large, peaceful garden


Alresford’s ‘Norman Bridge’

A unique opportunity to see The Soke Bridge, a late 12th century stone single arched (Grade 2 listed) bridge, spanning the overflow channel from Old Alresford Pond.


Aylesbury Waterside Theatre Backstage Tour

Discover what it feels like to stand on stage, see behind the scenes and enjoy the beautiful architecture of this landmark venue.


Saturday 14th Sept

Lovelace Mausoleum

Grade II listed building, built by the 1st Earl of Lovelace at the end of the 19th century, in the unique Lovelace architectural style that dominates East Horsley, a combination of flint, with moulded red, white and black terracotta brickwork.


Tunbridge Wells Masonic Hall Open Day

The premises will be open and access will be available to the Temple which is normally closed to non-members. Freemasons will be on hand to explain the design of the Temple and answer any questions on Freemasonry and its 300 year old history.


Bow Brickhill Church and Tower Open Day

The church and tower will be open for stunning views over Milton Keynes and surrounding countryside.


Milton Keynes Waste Recovery Park Open Day

Booking required

Presentation on the technologies on site and a tour around the site.


Old St Helen’s Church Hastings

Guided tours of the ruins. Access to the top of the tower to see spectacular views towards the coast.


Sunday 15th Sept

Surrey County Council, County Hall

A rare opportunity to see behind the scenes at the Grade II listed County Hall, with tours taking place throughout the day showing the key features of this historic building including the Court Room, Grand Hall and Council Chamber.


Henley Fort

Scheduled monument. Built in 1896 as the western post of thirteen fortified positions to defend London against a possible invasion by the French, Henley Fort is the most complete of those remaining.


Somerhill House/The Schools at Somerhill

Grade I listed Jacobean Mansion (1611), second largest Jacobean house in Kent, with a later Victorian extension which, together with 20th and 21st century additions, is home to the Schools at Somerhill; Yardley Court prep school for boys, Derwent Lodge prep school for girls and Somerhill pre-prep.


Reading Synagogue

Grade 11 listed building which has undergone complete restoration of the roof and cupola as a result of a substantial grant. Reading Synagogue is a traditional synagogue in a Moorish style opened on 31st October 1900 and still in regular use.


Taplow Court

Taplow Court, a mid 19th-century mansion set high above the Thames near Maidenhead, and its grounds will be open to the public from 2-5pm.


Thursday 19th Sept

Open day at the Hospital of St Cross & Almshouse of Noble Poverty

History and hospitality in a serene and picturesque setting by the water meadows. The Hospital of St Cross is a beautiful group of Grade I Listed Buildings dating from 1132, and is home to 25 Brothers.


Friday 20th Sept

The Grange Open House

The Grange is a Scheduled Monument with Grade 1 listing. The original red brick house was built in the mid-1660s to a design by William Samwell. In c.1809 William Wilkins re-cased the building in the form of a Doric Temple. The site is open year-round to view the house from the outside and the open day is the only opportunity for the public to see inside.


Friday 20th and Saturday 21st Sept

Providence Chapel

A very unusual, recently restored building containing an interesting and new historical exhibition.


Winchester Book Bindery

Booking required

Book a visit to Winchester’s very own bindery & enjoy a short talk by one of the binders giving a brief history of the bindery and the nature of the work undertaken. The visitors will be given an opportunity to see some of the books & ask questions.


Sat and Sun, 21st and 22nd Sept

Western Heights North Entrance Road Tunnel

Booking required

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

Triple spiral staircase built 1803-1809 connecting the former Grand Shaft barracks on the cliff top with Snargate Street at sea level to provide easy, swift access for troops.


The Bastion Tower, Canterbury

A rare opportunity to visit one of the surviving converted bastion towers in the city wall, now the offices of an architect


Behind the scenes tours of the Mid Hants Railway engineering sheds

The tours will take you behind the scenes through our workshops to explore how we restore the steam locomotives and carriages we run on the Watercress Line, as well as discovering what is involved in maintaining them.


The Gothic Temple

A rare chance to see inside the Gothic Temple, a splendid folly built in 1741 by architect James Gibbs. It was one of Lord Cobham’s last additions to his famous landscape at Stowe and dedicated by him ‘To the Liberties of our Ancestors.’


Saturday 21st Sept

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 – come and discover its secret chamber! The Cathedral Library and the Bishop’s private chapel.


St John’s School, Leatherhead

See displays on the history and heritage of St John’s in the Old Chapel and discover how the School came to be established in Leatherhead over 140 years ago with a guided tour of the School grounds.


Behind the Scenes at Dorking Halls & Dorking Masonic Lodge

Opened in 1931 and designed by Percy W Meredith, the Dorking Halls had a long association with composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Dorking and Leith Hill Music Festival and the Dorking Masonic Lodge. Guided tours explore this history.


Victory Wood Bunker Open Day

Booking required

Come and explore the underground bunker, at the top of Victory Wood. The bunker was built to monitor nuclear attacks during the Cold War. It was opened in 1966 and decommissioned and emptied in 1976, when the imminent threat of nuclear war had passed.


St Nicolas Old Shoreham: Guided Tours

Guides will be on hand to show visitors the outstanding architectural and historical features of this jewel of a building. The perfectly preserved ancient church is thought to have been founded by Saxons as early as 850, and was subsequently rebuilt by the Norman Lords of Bramber.


Barter Memorial Chapel, Royal Hampshire County Hospital

Booking required

Rarely open to the public, this is a unique opportunity to explore the original hospital chapel designed by William Butterfield and it’s beautiful stained glass windows.


Reading Crown Court Open Day

The Crown Court open day returns in 2019, there will be activities for all ages which will be of interest to all, but particularly those interested in the law and crime and punishment


Sunday 22nd Sept

Reigate Fort Open Day

Take a look at the interior of the fort buildings at Reigate Fort. Not normally open to the public, the toolstore, shifting lobby and magazine will be open today.


Open afternoon at the Heathcote Mausoleum, Hursley

A rare chance to look inside an 18th century mausoleum. Built in 1771 the mausoleum was used for burial of members of the Heathcote family who once lived at nearby Hursley House.


The full list across the UK is here.

 

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