Newbury Society: Anthony Pick

Our Heritage Open Days

Newbury is a medium-sized town in Berkshire, the capital of West Berkshire Unitary authority. We opened three of Newbury’s four Grade I listed buildings (St Nicolas Church, the 16th-century Shaw House, and the Cloth Hall) and six Grade II* listed sites that are not generally open, together with other properties of cultural or social interest – the 19th-century cemetery, the Masonic Centre, a tower giving views over a Country Park, a monument from Greenham Common’s military history, a local theatre, and a sustainable power project. In 2011, we also staged a re-enactment of a local 19th-century Parliamentary enquiry, taken from notes made at the time.

Why we take part

Heritage Open Days is a natural extension of the Newbury Society’s work as the local civic society, in promoting local heritage. It was the idea in 2008 of our Chairman at the time, Garry Poulson. We have received the enthusiastic support of Newbury Town Council, the local Countryside Service, local churches, the local department store (itself Grade II*), many owners of local heritage properties, and the local newspaper for the publicity side. When the 19th-century cemetery was restored, we helped to publicise it. Unfortunately, the fourth local Grade I listed building, Donnington Castle gatehouse, has been refused opening by English Heritage despite repeated representations on our part.

How Heritage Open Days made a difference

It has made our membership and Committee more aware of local heritage, enthused many members to support the event, and provided a focus for the Society’s activities. It has brought in new members and provided a forum to sell our published literature. It has raised the profile of the Society, especially with the Town and District Council and the Business Improvement District. Local celebrities have been generous in giving their time to launch the event on Saturday morning.

Favourite Heritage Open Days moments

Our satisfaction arises from the steadily increasing number of visitors – 2,000 in 2008 to over 3,000 in 2011 – and from the evident increased awareness of our local heritage in its widest sense. This includes the heritage of Newbury’s historic buildings, its residents as evidenced in the 19th-century cemetery, its municipal history in the Town Hall, its local Country Park, and modern buildings of interest. One pleasing incident was the arrival last year of two visitors from Germany to see a monument by Canova to the last Margrave of Anspach in St Mary’s Church, Speen, a tribute to the central Heritage Open Days publicity.

Advice to first-time participants

I have three pieces of advice: Provide full information, organise well, and try to arrange some new buildings and events each year.

The first of these is the most important. For each property, we publish about 250 words covering four topics: What will I see? How old is it? What does it mean for the history of Newbury? (or Thatcham, as appropriate) When and how can I see it? In addition, there is a photograph. This information is essential to encourage the public to come.

Arrange for people to be on site to answer questions. Do not neglect information on the basics – address, post code, opening times, access restrictions, booking (if needed), local parking, public transport, wheelchair access, local refreshments, toilets. They may not all be available, but the public need to know. Warn the public that numbers may be limited at popular venues. Arrange to count up the visitors at each site and publish the total. Work with your local team, and all should go well.