Introducing… Historic Houses*

*WARNING - these houses contain real people, not just portraits of them!

England's heritage is pretty special and wonderfully diverse: it's a kaleidosope of beautiful buildings, green spaces, craft traditions and folk tales. So many stories to tell...and so many people helping to tell them. But there's the rub -  what do all these different organisations involved in heritage do? And why does my membership card for one not work for another?!  

Well, Heritage Open Days being the kaleidoscopic festival that it is we work with many of these fantastic people and thought our blog might be good place to make some introductions. First up, and fresh from a recent rebrand we spoke to Emma Robinson, Director of Policy & Campaigns for Historic Houses about what makes them unique...

© Historic Houses - The maze at Doddington

What is Historic Houses, in a nutshell?

Historic Houses represents Britain’s largest collection of independently owned historic houses and gardens – many with open doors and garden gates, waiting to be explored.

The places we represent are not static museums but personal, living examples of Britain’s past, present and future. They range from windswept castles and dramatic palaces to elegant stately homes and quirky manor houses. Whether large or small, medieval or Victorian, what unites them is that most are still family homes, where the rooms really are used for everyday living and family and pets are never far away.

Few people realise that the majority of historic houses and gardens open to the public are looked after by independent owners, rather than by national charities or government. We aim to help our member houses flourish as small businesses and offer ever-greater access to the public, while retaining what’s so special about them – that they are, for the most part, loved and lived-in houses, full of real grandparents and children and dogs, not just portraits of them.

Can you give us an example?

Historic Houses places range from the world-famous like Burghley, Longleat and Blenheim to equally compelling ‘hidden gems’ such as Stonor in Oxfordshire, Hedingham Castle in Essex and Muncaster Castle in the Lake District. One of our newest member houses, Hopwood Hall near Rochdale, opened its doors to the public for the first time in nearly 30 years as part of last year’s Heritage Open Days. The house was rediscovered by American actor and director Hopwood DePree – named after his ancestors who built Hopwood Hall. Hopwood is currently spearheading a programme of emergency repairs as part of a long term project to restore the house and gradually reopen it to the public as an artistic and cultural venue.

So how do we find out more (and get inside those doors)?! 

Come on in and join us! Membership gives free access to more than 320 historic houses across the UK, as well as a range of other benefits – including receiving our quarterly magazine, and special access to hundreds of exclusive tours.

And finally; we're highlighting Extraordinary Women this year, is there anyone you'd like to nominate?

Where to begin? Whether through architectural patronage or estate management, community philanthropy or landscape design, women have played a pivotal role in developing so many of the Historic Houses properties our members enjoy visiting; and many of our places are lucky enough to have inspirational women at the helm today.

Choosing just one extraordinary woman to highlight is a tall order! Recently I’ve been researching some of the women of Historic Houses past and present for a series of blog posts. Georgina Brackenbury of Holme Pierrepont Hall in Nottinghamshire is one who sticks out. Georgina, her mother and her sister were all prominent activists in the Suffragette movement – all three were imprisoned – and Georgina’s portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst can still be seen in the National Gallery today.

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