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Most of us live close to a university, but few of us consider them as a heritage destination in their own right. However, if one looks beyond the lecture theatres and mortarboards, universities across the country are jam-packed full of awe-inspiring collections and, with Heritage Open Days coming up, there’s never been a better time to delve into them.

© University of Birmingham - The Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham


I’m based at the University of Birmingham and housed on this campus alone is the Barber Institute of Fine Arts (featuring paintings by Monet, Degas, Turner, and van Gogh – to name but a few!), the Lapworth Museum of Geology (one of the oldest specialist geological museums in the UK), as well as other collections and archives of historical importance. For Heritage Open Days, we’ll be opening up Winterbourne House and Garden for free on Sunday 9th September. Restored to its Edwardian Arts and Craft splendour, Winterbourne House is a unique heritage attraction – set within seven acres of beautiful botanic gardens on the campus. Plus, I can highly recommend their tea room and gift shop!


For those in the north-east of England, the University of Hull has a packaged programme for Heritage Open Days this year, including opening the doors on its own impressive Art Collection, a twilight tour of Thwaite Botanical Gardens and, in their Department of Computer Science, visitors will be given the chance to walk around a 3D immersive environment. The University will also be focusing on the history of liquid crystals, as 2012 marks the 40th anniversary that Professor George Gray and his team invented liquid crystals suitable for displays at Hull. These displays can be found today in a vast array of gadgets, such as mobile phones, cameras, laptop computers and HDTVs.


Over in South Yorkshire the University of Sheffield will be participating in Heritage Open Days once again by opening up its iconic Arts Tower to the public. Standing more than 250ft tall, the Grade II* listed structure is the tallest university building in the UK. Designed through a competition launched in 1959, it was completed in 1965, before being officially opened in June 1966 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. The building has many admirable qualities, including panoramic views across the city and out to the Peak District, and the renowned paternoster lift! It has recently undergone refurbishment and visitors on one of the guided tours offered Friday 7th September will get to enjoy demonstrations and exhibits from the Schools of Architecture and Landscape, which are now housed in its top 10 floors.


For those in the South, head over to the Bognor Regis Campus of the University of Chichester. There, you’ll be able to visit Hothamton Crescent which contains three fine Regency buildings designed and built at the end of the 18th century. The buildings were designed to be part of property developer and politician Sir Richard Hotham's grand plan to turn Bognor Regis into a seaside resort for the rich and famous. Themed tours on Thursday 6 September will introduce visitors to the life and times of Sir Richard Hotham, the history of the area during WWII and there will even be a chance see the later developments on the campus including the new Learning Resource Centre, which only opened in January 2012.

I can only but scratch the surface when it comes to universities offering up delights for Heritage Open Days. And I even haven't mentioned Oxbridge! I suggest you make a list of the nearest universities to where you live and use the Heritage Open Days Event Directory to see which institutions will be throwing open their doors in September, because there is a plethora of collections and historic buildings on campuses nationwide waiting to be rediscovered and enjoyed.