Free to explore: England’s buildings invite you in for more than just a glimpse

Thousands of buildings and places across England will be throwing their doors open free of charge for Heritage Open Days 2008, Thursday 11 to Sunday 14 September. Co-ordinated by the Civic Trust and supported by English Heritage, this annual celebration of architecture, history and culture spans fifty counties from Kent to Cumbria, with all major cities, towns and hundreds of villages, bringing curiosity, discovery and enjoyment right onto people's doorsteps.

With more than 3,500 properties of every style, period, design and function and a great variety of associated events and activities, Heritage Open Days is England’s largest free cultural event, promising fascinating insights and fresh inspirations to everyone, whatever their age or background, interest or taste.

More than 35,000 local volunteers from all walks of life - civic society members, property owners, estate managers, conservation officers, company directors, tourism managers and education officers – will be contributing their time and enthusiasm to make this national event happen, while up 1 million visitors are expected to make the most of the free invitation this year.

Philip Kolvin, Chairman of the Civic Trust, said: “Visitors are invited into places that are otherwise private, to meet people who live or work there, or who know the history of the place better than anyone else. Buildings may be fascinating and awe-inspiring because of their beauty, style or status, but it is the stories they can tell, which make them dearer and bring them closer to us. And Heritage Open Days with its huge variety of places and events taking part is all about revealing those stories.”

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, 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. This year is set to be even bigger than last year, so even if you are a regular Heritage Open Days-goer there will be something new for you to see and do. This is a chance to explore not just country houses but the history and culture of everything from Buddhist temples and Masonic lodges to mines, farms, pubs and factories.”

Highlights for 2008 include:

Shaw House, Church Road, Shaw, Newbury, Berkshire: See the room where a bullet narrowly missed King Charles I in 1644 at Berkshire’s largest Elizabethan manor. Hands-on activities for families.

Wooburn Green Special Trees, Manor Park, Wooburn, Buckinghamshire: Hear the local tale of a biblical planting regime that was nearly forgotten and see some amazing trees including the largest plane tree in the county.

St Nicholas Church Gardens, Dyke Road, Brighton, East Sussex: Access to the memorial to Sake Deen Mohamed, “Shampooing Surgeon to the King” and owner of England’s first Indian restaurant.

Durdans Riding School, Chalk Lane, Epsom, Surrey: Lord Rosebery, the racing Prime Minister, built this riding school for his race horses, designed by George Devey, pioneer of the English vernacular style.

Nanoscience & Quantum Information Centre, HH Wills Physics Laboratory, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol: Join a guided tour around the newly opened specialist laboratories, whose vibration and noise levels will be amongst the lowest achieved in the world.

The Winsford Centre, Oke Hampton, Devon: Closed by the NHS in 1998, the Winsford Cottage Hospital was purpose-designed by world-renowned Arts and Crafts architect C.F.A. Voysey.

Hidcote Manor Garden, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire: Visit one of England’s great Arts and Crafts gardens, which inspired Chris Beardshaw’s award-winning entry at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show.

Shackerstone Station Battlefield Line Railway, Nr Market Bosworth, Leicestershire: See the diesel locomotives stretch their legs on the former Ashby & Nuneaton Joint Railway, which opened in 1873.

Investigating Bestwood’s Garden Archaeology, Nottingham: Join archaeologists as they discover and catalogue fragments of Bestwood Lodge’s lost garden.

Foundry Tour, Walsall, West Midlands: Come along and enjoy a day of family fun and behind the scenes tours, celebrating 119 years of a traditional Black Country foundry.

Wistanstow Village Hall, Wistanstow, Craven Arms, Shropshire: Be inspired by this impressive timbered hall, built in 1926 as a gift to the village by a local philanthropist in memory of the armed forces in WWI.

Wrest Park House & Gardens, Silsoe, Bedfordshire: Discover one of the most magnificent, and yet least well known gardens in England, sample wine and jam and play traditional outdoor games.

Stourbridge Fair at the Leper Chapel, Banwell Junction, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Come and enjoy stalls and entertainment with a medieval flavour, storytelling and talks on the history of this very special 12th century chapel.

MV Lotte, King Edward Quay, Colchester, Essex: Cargo ship, built in 1927 which worked in Holland, later converted into a hotel barge. Visit the sun deck and main saloon.

Blaydes House, 6 High Street, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire: Tour this fine example of a Merchant’s Mansion, once home of the Blaydes family and HMS Bounty, now housing the Maritime Historical Studies Centre.

Bishops’ House, Norton Lees Lane, Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Sheffield’s best-kept secret will amply reward any time detectives or treasure-hunters willing to seek out this over 500 years old time capsule.

Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum, Bridge Street, Morpeth, Northumberland: Live bagpipe music at this 13th century bridge chapel housing the internationally acclaimed museum of Northumbrian and world bagpipes.

Eco Centre, Cockermouth School, Castlegate Drive, Cockermouth, Cumbria: Opened in 2007, this innovative multi-functional teaching facility was designed to minimise its environmental impact, using recycled drums for its foundations.

Events are taking place between Thursday 11 and Sunday 14 September. For more information on times and pre-booking details please check the Heritage Open Days website at The online directory will be available from mid-July. You can also ring the Heritage Open Days information line on 020 7539 7907 (lines open 1 August – 12 September, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm).