Chester Racecourse launched Heritage Open Days 2008

Today (Tuesday 2 September) the country's oldest racecourse will host the launch of Heritage Open Days 2008, Britain's biggest and most diverse celebration of architecture, history and culture.

Over 3,500 places across the country are opening their doors for free as part of Heritage Open Days which takes place between 11th and 14th September 2008.

From a rare opportunity to view the nation's first ever woman's works canteen built during the First World War in Leeds to a chance to explore a group of privately owned, cutting edge eco-houses in Norfolk, Heritage Open Days offers people the opportunity to explore fascinating buildings and places, many of which are normally closed to the public, completely free of charge.

Last year, Heritage Open Days attracted nearly a million visitors – and with 90 per cent of the population living within 30 minutes of a Heritage Open Days event, more and more people are taking part. This year, the four-day annual event which is co-ordinated nationally by the Civic Trust in partnership with English Heritage will draw on the support of an army of 35,000 volunteers.

Griff Rhys Jones, President of the Civic Trust, said: “I love exploring unknown buildings. I love to get right inside places which seem forbidden. This is a gift - the greatest idea and the hugest fun. Heritage Open Days makes architecture accessible and heritage human. What a fantastic opportunity for all, and how excellent that so many take advantage of it. It shows that we all care about what our neighbourhoods look like and what is built in them.” 

Maria Adebowale, English Heritage Commissioner, said: "More than a million people from across the country take part in Heritage Open Days making it the largest annual cultural event in the UK.

"Over the Heritage Open Days weekend people share their pride and passion for their local heritage. Here at Chester Racecourse visitors will be treated to a rare glimpse behind the scenes of one of the busiest racecourses in the country. This year the range and diversity of properties is staggering – from Hindu temples and Masonic lodges to mines, farms, pubs and factories - so even if you are a regular Heritage Open Days visitor there will be something new for you to see and do."

English Heritage Outreach Managers annually support Heritage Open Days through developing community projects around the country, expanding the scheme into new areas and encouraging people to open up properties and run activities that reflect the cultural diversity of their community. Highlights for this year include: creating three guided walking faith trails in Birmingham which link a mosque, Gurdwara, Church and Buddhist Temple; exploring Fort Brockhurst in Gosport through community art workshops with local disabled people and developing an accessible trail to enable visitors to discover Tilbury's waterfront, military & industrial heritage in the East of England. 

Margaret Hodge MP, Minister for Culture, Tourism and the Creative Industries, said: "The great thing about Heritage Open Days is that there's something for everyone.  Whether it's the private homes of individuals, or the places that fascinate and delight because of what happens there, it's a once-a-year chance to be surprised and, often, amazed.  Don't miss it."
Highlights of Heritage Open Days 2008 include:

• Bentley Priory, Stanmore, London: meet a veteran and take part in Oral History recordings at this Grade II* listed John Soane building, headquarters for Fighter Command during The Battle of Britain and location for the 1969 film ‘The Battle of Britain' starring Sir Laurence Olivier;
• Barclays Gosling Branch, Fleet Street, London: established around 1650, this is the oldest branch in the Barclays group;
• Shaw House, Newbury, Berkshire: admire this sumptuous Elizabethan manor, the largest in the county, for the first time since its £6 million restoration;
• Banwell Caves, Banwell, Weston-super-mare, Somerset: explore these caves, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which contain bones of Ice Age animals, believed according to local legion to be those of animals drowned in Noah's flood;
• West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk: go into the houses, smell the wood smoke, feel the solid wood and discover how our ancestors lived at this early Anglo-Saxon village, carefully reconstructed where it has been excavated;
• CPRE Norfolk Green Buildings Open Days: marvel at the eco-technology in this range of green family homes throughout Norfolk;
• The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, Light Alloy Foundry, Derby: view this fine collection of Rolls-Royce aero and motor engines;
• Foundry Tour of Chamberlin & Hill Castings Ltd: feel the heat during this one-off opportunity to see behind the scenes of this working Black Country Foundry;
• JW Evans, Birmingham: a rare glimpse of this untouched silverware manufactory run by the same family since the 1880's and recently acquired by English Heritage;
• The Chapel of Our Lady, Rotherham, South Yorkshire: explore this medieval chapel, the best of only four medieval bridge chapels in England and its spooky crypt, once the town gaol;
• Quench your thirst for history by taking a walk through The Valley of Beer! Up to ten historic pubs in Sheffield will be celebrating the city's rich hostelry past with displays, tours and photographs.  Many will also offer beers brewed especially for Heritage Open Day, named after the pub's original name, including the Fat Cat, near Kelham Island, serving up a smooth pint of "Alma"!
• View the nation's first ever women's works canteen built during the First World War at Braimes Engineering in Leeds, wonderfully preserved and recently listed;
• Northern Racing College, Doncaster: see the jockeys and their mounts racing on the flat and over the steeples as well as demonstrations by the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery, a mounted Police demonstration and Arabian racing, as well as an opportunity to tour the Victorian stables;
• Indulge in a sporting life and watch as Grimsby Rugby Club put an old theory to the test that sportsmen of yesteryear wouldn't be able to compete with those of today.  A team of strapping lads wearing modern boots and gear will take on an 1885 circa team dressed in period sports kit;
• Blackpool Illuminations Depot, Blackpool, Lancashire: take a special tour behind the scenes to find out how Blackpool goes about creating its amazing light show; and
• English Heritage, the National Trust and the Historic Houses Association will open up hundreds of properties free of charge for Heritage Open Days.

Heritage Open Days is part of European Heritage Days, taking place across 48 countries
during September as part of a mass celebration of Europe's cultural heritage. The Heritage Open Days online directory listing all the events taking place in England can be seen at

Across the rest of the UK, Doors Open Days in Scotland runs every weekend in September, Open Doors Days in Wales takes place on 6/7, 13/14, 20/21 September. European Heritage Days Northern Ireland runs on 13/14 September and London Open House takes place on 20/21 September. The European Heritage Days of Jewish Culture & Heritage run from 7-28 September. More information at

For press enquiries please contact Helen Barnett at English Heritage on 020 7973 3251 or For more information on events in specific areas please contact Katja Condy at the Civic Trust on 020 7539 7917 or 07847 485870 or by email

Images are available free on the Press Association's site in the English Heritage folder under Heritage Open Days 2007.