The Annual Heritage Open Days | Living North

The Annual Heritage Open Days


This September the annual Heritage Open Days are celebrating their 25th anniversary, with free entry to the region’s top heritage attractions, and the opportunity to discover secret sites which are normally inaccessible

From 13th–22nd September, heritage sites across the region will throw open their doors to the public, offering free entry on selected days, alongside exclusive talks, walks and special events. As this year is Heritage Open Days’ 25th anniversary, the events are set to be better than ever. Fiona Tobin, the local co-ordinator for Tyne & Wear, explains: ‘This is England’s largest festival of history and culture, and it’s your chance explore the fascinating heritage on your doorstep. One of the appeals is that you can be a tourist in your own town, and see things that you might pass everyday, but never get a glimpse inside.’ 

‘Heritage days are about local pride and celebration,’ continues Fiona. ‘There is so much to offer in this region, and it’s really important to use this opportunity to discover and celebrate its rich heritage – in areas such as engineering we’ve really led the world. Once people know about the open days they’re loyal for life – some people have been going every single year since it started 25 years ago.’

One of the most exciting things about Heritage Open Days is the chance to see hidden places, some of which have not been open to the public before. For a few days in September we can walk up the steps of the tower in Newcastle Cathedral, discover the secret crypt at Gibside, and take part in exclusive tours, including a tour of Ryhope with author Glenda Young. 

This year’s theme is ‘People Power’ – which is about celebrating the historical changes that have been enacted by local communities, groups and individuals in the area. ‘It’s a broad theme,’ says Fiona, ‘but it’s also something that people can really link into. We have a number of events including a viewing of a film about the Women’s Banner Group at St Hilda’s Pit Head and the Dare to Dream project in Durham, which promotes quiet activism.’

With so many events planned for this year, there really is something for everyone. ‘We welcome all backgrounds and all ages – Heritage Open Days are for anyone who is interested in any sort of heritage and history. If you want to visit heritage sites, go on a tour, see archives or attend interesting events, it’s worth having a look,’ says Fiona. ‘We also have a lot of family-focused events, including plenty of children’s activities planned for The Baltic and The Land of Oak and Iron, as we want families to feel included and welcomed.’

With over 200 events to see in the North East, here’s our pick of the best of Heritage Open Days

13th–14th SEPTEMBER 
Newcastle Cathedral Tower
Mosley Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 1PF
Don’t miss this rare opportunity to climb the 162 steps of Newcastle Cathedral’s Tower to see breathtaking views of the city. If all the steps seem daunting, don't worry – on the way up there will be a stop-off at the Cathedral Bell where you can take a breather, and hear fascinating stories about the history of the Cathedral and the city. Be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

13th–15th SEPTEMBER 
Graft and Glory at Berwick Museum and Art Gallery
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland TD15 1DG
Learn about how engineers and innovators from the North East changed the world at the travelling Graft and Glory exhibition at Berwick Museum and Art Gallery this September. At this exciting exhibition, you can hear about the rags-to-riches story of Bonnie Geordie Elliot, a mining engineer who made major contributions to the mining of coal, and innovations in communications technology – also learn about his unexpected connection to Dracula’s author Bram Stoker. 

Walk around Ryhope with Glenda Young
Ryhope, Sunderland 
Join local author Glenda Young on an exclusive walk around Ryhope, visiting the locations from her best-selling historical fiction novels. Glenda credits her local library in Ryhope for her love of books, and on this walk you will see other locations that inspired her, including the place where Meg Sutcliffe, protagonist of Glenda’s compelling novel ‘Belle of the Back Streets’, plied her trade. Glenda will be accompanied by local historian Paul Lanagan, who will be interviewing the author about her journey from soap-opera fan to published author. 

14th–15th SEPTEMBER
Gibside Estate, Gateshead NE16 6BG
Heritage Open Days are expected to be very exciting at Gibside, the spectacular Georgian mansion and estate owned by the National Trust, which features acre upon acre of gardens, woodlands and buildings. This year there will be two exclusive openings, including a rare chance to glimpse inside Gibside’s eerie Chapel Crypt, where coal baron George Bowes is buried, and the chance to look round The Banqueting House, an elegant Gothic folly designed around 1750 by Daniel Garett, which is usually let out for holidays.  

14th–15th SEPTEMBER 
Head of Steam Museum 
Station Road, Darlington, County Durham DL3 6ST
Step back in time to Victorian Darlington at the Head of Steam Museum. Explore the original railway station from the 1840s, with a platform that still has an original foot bridge, booking office, waiting room, newspaper kiosk and Victorian toilet, or admire the four historic locomotives, including the star attraction Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1. There is also a children’s activity room to keep the kids entertained, and exhibitions where you can learn about the history of Darlington. 

14th–15th, 21th–22nd SEPTEMBER 
St Hilda’s Church
Church Close, Hartlepool TS24 0DA
This ancient church dates back as far as 648, and overlooks Tees Bay. Come here to see impressive architecture and to learn about how St Hilda took charge of the monks and nuns here, before moving to Whitley Bay as its first Abbess. This architectural gem still functions as a place of worship, and in September it will open up to offer an insight into its rich history, providing leaflets and tours to supplement your visit. 

15th– 16th SEPTEMBER 
Ormesby Hall
Ladgate Lane, Middlesbrough TS3 0SR
This grand mansion, built in the Palladian style, was completed in 1754 and is now owned by the National Trust, who have preserved the house to offer visitors an insight into 18th century living. Join a guided tour, where you will learn about the Pennyman family, who owned the house for 400 years. You’ll hear stories of war, love and bankruptcy, discover how the Pennyman family helped unemployed miners in the 1930s, and, of course, hear about the wicked and reckless Sir James, who had a rich inheritance only to squander it on gambling, leading to the closure of the house. On your visit you can also explore the servant’s quarters, take a stroll in the beautiful gardens, or entertain the children with an indoor trail and natural play area. 

Bailiffgate Museum & Gallery
Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1LX
Situated in a former Catholic Church, this museum has artefacts, illustrated panels and interactive displays, through which you can learn about the history of Alnwick. You can see original architectural features, including the organ and the beautiful stained glass rose windows on the roof – or, if you’re crafty, there will be an amazing display of free form weaving by Eta Ingham Lawrie. Children can take part in a mouse hunt, crawl through a mine, try on Border Reiver armour, and experience what it might have been like at an Edwardian school, by dressing up and sitting at an original desk. 

Dare to Dream Workshop 
Miners Hall, Durham DH1 4BE
One of the highlights of this year’s Heritage Open Days in the North East is an exclusive workshop with craftivist and author Sarah Corbett. Craftivism is a mix of the terms craft and activism, and aims to create positive social change with the gentle act of making crafts. In Sarah’s ‘Dare to Dream’ workshop, participants will think about an issue they would like to change – whether it’s to do with climate change, politics or personal growth – and will then hand-stitch a positive message onto fabric ‘dream clouds’. One example is ‘I dare to dream of a healthy planet’. As well as focusing on creating a better future, Sarah hopes that, in recognition of Heritage Open Days, participants will also think about the past during the workshop. There will be the opportunity to learn about and discuss changemakers in Durham’s past, reflect on the idea of ‘People Power’ and think about what we can learn from the past, and use it to aide our own activism. ‘We try and link our events with a local dreamer from the past, someone who has made a difference. People can read about a historical dreamer and use it to inform their own dreams,’ Sarah explains. ‘Anyone is welcome to come – whether you’ve picked up a needle and thread before or not, and whether you’ve done activism before or not.’ 

Chopwell Wood
Hookergate Lane, Tyne & Wear NE39 1LT
This enchanting woodland is a real gem – be sure to visit this September to discover its vast history. You can explore by yourself, or join a guided tour, and there will be a Family Hands on Heritage event for children, where you can get involved with green woodworking, willow wearing, charcoal making, wool spinning, clay tile and pot making. There will also be vintage forestry vehicles and heavy horse logging. 

For more information about Heritage Open Days and the above events, visit All events are free on the days stated. 

Published in: September 2019

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