Heritage Open Days

England’s largest annual community heritage festival returns this month with a programme of activities themed around creativity, ranging from fashion and the arts to archaeological excavations and museum open days. Ceri Pennington has picked out a selection from this year’s events.

This year’s Heritage Open Days festival, running between 8 and 17 September, encourages participants to explore their imaginative side, taking part in events focused on history, poetry, architecture, art, archaeology, and more under the theme of ‘Creativity Unwrapped’. A wide range of event organisers are participating in the proceedings, including universities, archaeology and history societies, commercial units, county councils, and dedicated volunteer groups. The following regional highlights are only a selection of what is on offer for 2023, but the full listings can be found at http://www.heritageopendays.org.uk and on the festival’s social media channels.


Creative Ancestors and Nature – Thornborough Henges

West Tanfield, North Yorkshire, 16 September

Travel back in time at Thornborough Henges, a triple henge monument in North Yorkshire. This event offers a guided tour  to help visitors explore the creativity of our prehistoric ancestors, as well as a community ‘rake up’ activity which will showcase both the site’s archaeology and its rare ecological habitat.


Wordsworth House and Garden

Cockermouth, Cumbria, 9 September

Discover Wordsworth House and Garden as it would have been 250 years ago when it was the residence of Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his family. Displays and exhibitions throughout the house will give visitors a taste of life in the 1770s. 


Heritage Open Day onboard the Lady Daphne

Charlestown Harbour, Cornwall, 16-17 September

Step aboard the Lady Daphne and begin a journey of discovery. This event celebrates the centenary of the wooden sailing barge, which once carried cargo to and from Charlestown Harbour in the 1920s. A pop-up exhibition, guided tours, and a range of children’s activities on board will help to illuminate the vessel’s history. 


London bus route 38 (Victoria and Hackney) – Heritage Buses

Greater London, 16 September

Take a free trip on buses from the 1950s and 1960s to help Route 38 celebrate its 111th birthday. Open-platform buses will run every 10 minutes between Victoria and Hackney stations, and the event is organised by the London Bus Museum and friends. 


Norman Cross Napoleonic Prison Depot – Creativity Unwrapped

Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, 16-17 September

Explore what life was like in a Napoleonic War-era prison. Norman Cross had space for 7,000 inmates, many of whom spent over a decade within its walls, and who whiled away their time by creating artefacts including bone models of ships, domino boxes, and straw pictures. This event showcases their creativity and inventive spirit in the face of adversity.


Cresswell goes to War

Morpeth, Northumberland, 17 September

The Home Front has been re-established at Cresswell Pele Tower. Learn how to use ration cards at a recreated wartime butcher’s shop, visit Land Girls in the Dig for Victory garden, help the Air Raid Wardens and Observers, and undergo weapons training in the Drill Sergeant’s battle school. 


Behind the Scenes at the Mary Rose Museum

Portsmouth, Hampshire, 8-11 September

The Mary Rose Museum is offering exclusive behind-the-scenes tours of its Reserve Collections, allowing visitors to explore the Tudor flagship’s archaeology in the company of the collections and conservation team. View artefacts that are not on public display, and trace the ship’s story from its 16th-century construction to the recovery of the wreck in 1982.


Eckington Creativity

Eckington, Derbyshire, 12 & 14-16 September

Visit Eckington’s Norman church to see a display of work by the local community celebrating creativity, hear the bell-ringers and choir rehearsing, and take a guided walk on the theme of ‘Architects, Poets, and Gardeners’.


Remembering Mary I: creating a queen’s legacy

Winchester, Hampshire, 16 September 

Journey back to the Tudor period with this lecture (available both online and in person) by Dr Johanna Strong, exploring Mary I’s reign and legacy. The talk highlights the influence of manipulation and propaganda in documentary sources published after Mary’s death, exploring how they shaped interpretations of her reign and her villainous depiction in history books. 

Archaeology on Prescription – Willow House Celebration

York, North Yorkshire, 16 September

At Willow House, home to the award-winning Archaeology on Prescription project (see CA 402), you can tour the excavation and see some of the finds, while virtual visitors can interact with archaeologists through videos and livestreams. 


Telling the Story of Badbury Rings

Dorset Museum, Dorchester, 10 September

Visit an interactive pop-up exhibition, created by Bournemouth University PhD student Beth Darlington, about one of Dorset’s finest Iron Age hillforts, Badbury Rings. Participants will be able to try out different ways in which we can tell the stories of prehistoric sites and landscapes, including handling replica objects, digital scans, and VR.

Further Information
We have tried to cover as many regions as possible, but if your area is not listed please check www.heritageopendays.org.uk for the latest information on Heritage Open Days local to you.