04 Jan 2023
by Sarah Holloway

Blue starburst fireworks

Throughout last year we've been keeping an eye out for those entries that really sparkle with a bit of extra magic - the images that catch the eye, the titles and descriptions that make you want to know more. You could have the best event in the world but for people to come to that event, to know it is happening, the way you present it matters - particularly in the crowded marketplace of our event directory of thousands! Here are our favourites by category - plus, this year there are three extra special awards for those that exceeded categorisation! 

Media knock outs

These events were the ones most featured in press pitches. Key to their success: details were submitted to us early (including an image!) and their fun titles and clear descriptions caught the team's, and later the media’s attention.


  • The Gasman Cometh (Beverley Civic Society, East Riding of Yorkshire): ‘Gas lighting was astounding - walk through Beverley streets, the lamps are still there after nearly 200 years. We think they are the oldest gas lamps still on the street anywhere in the world. The tour ends inside the famous White Horse Inn (Nellie’s), still gas-lit.’
  • Champagne & Stinky Cheese – monks as accidental inventors (Norfolk Archaeological Trust / online event): ‘The Benedictine monks of St Benet's Abbey helped shape the landscape for centuries, but do you know what inventions monks were responsible for? These special tours will explain all.’ 
  • At the Cutting Edge (British Lawnmower Museum, Southport, Merseyside): ‘Edwin Budding's inspired invention in 1830 created the Great British Lawn - flat, smooth and striped. You can see a replica at the Museum, along with the hundreds of different machines that followed. Curator tours and special tour of reserve store.’ 
A vintage drawn advertisement of a man pushing a lawnmower. The title of the picture is the 'British Lawnmower Museum - Southport'.
The humble lawnmower was an astounding invention, and its story became a festival highlight. (© British Lawnmower Museum)

Inspiring images 

A picture's worth 1,000 words... and they're the first thing people tend to look at on a page. So with thousands of listings on our event directory, they make all the difference. Here are the most liked images from our social media streams last year…

Blackpool’s Grand Theatre (Left) – The Grand Theatre, Blackpool, Lancashire (© Blackpool Grand Theatre)

10 Women in 10 Days: Hilda Hewlett (Right) – Women’s Engineering Society (©WikiCommons)

Two images - the left of a grand theatre at dusk, lit up and a domed roof. The left a black and white photo of a Victorian women.

Tantalising titles

What’s in a name? A lot! After an image, it’s the first thing to catch someone’s eye when looking through event listings. Here are some that caught the team’s imagination last year…

  • Long Lost Loos – a wee walk from Walkley (Walkley Carnegie Library, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): 'A tour past the former public toilets between Walkley and the City Centre.'
  • Back to Bach! (Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel, Leicester, Leicestershire): 'An evening's entertainment of music and anecdotes from the organ bench.'
  • Quebec House & What’s Bugging the Conservator? (National Trust, Westerham, Kent): 'Explore life in the 1730s and then meet the specialists defending the house from bugs today!'


  • Wheels on Fire (All Good Stuff at Butcher Works, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): 'See how the wheel is fundamental to so many traditional crafts.'
  • Big Wheels Keep on Turning (Castle Point Transport Museum Society, Canvey island, Essex): 'Wheels! One of the greatest inventions. We can’t do without them. We have them on buses, bikes, trolleys, engines.'
Multiple green and cream vintage buses lined up row in a hanger building.
'Big Wheels' on display at Castlepoint Transport Museum. (© Janet Penn)

Delightful descriptions

The first few lines of an entry can make a world of difference. Questions tease us, descriptions entice us, or simply make us laugh! Here are some that had us smiling and made us want to know more..

  • Cresswell Pele Tower (Cresswell Pele Tower CIO, Northumberland): What have Geordies ever done for us? We will be celebrating the contribution that the North East has made to society - From Stotties and Broon Ale to Lighting and Clean Homes. Can you find the cuckoo in the nest of inventions and innovators? Join us at the 13th Century Pele Tower and test your knowledge of the things the North East of England gave to the world. We will have a range of items available for visitors to view, together with the story of their invention and the (generally) Geordie folk that spawned the idea. In amongst the plethora hides a false story - are you good enough to work out which?’
  • Astounding Inventions Family Trail (Lancaster City Museums, Lancashire): ‘They say that necessity is the mother of invention but what kinds of objects do we have dotted around the museum that were created to solve even the simplest of problems? Take part in our free Astounding Inventions family trail and find out!     We take so many everyday things around us for granted. Yet, every object was a lightbulb moment for someone...even the lightbulb. Have fun discovering what, when, who, where and most importantly why, on our free Astounding Inventions family trail around Lancaster Maritime Museum. Look out for objects that came about simply because somebody somewhere was finding something difficult; whether it was crossing a river, transporting rum, or even trying to keep their feet dry!’
A cover designed for a trail - Reading Astounding Invention: What?, Who?, When?, Where?, How?, Why?. A doodle of a person with ? surrounding them.
Museums surpassed themselves with trails this year, and we particularly loved this one. (© Lancaster City Museums)


Fancies, Feelers and Fents (Sunny Bank Mill, Leeds, West Yorkshire): ‘What did a Twaddell Measure, measure? Why might a mender wear goggles? How does a Crockmeter work? Discover the intriguing inventions, large and small, involved in the making of Woodhouse's fine worsted cloth and in the running of Sunny Bank Mills.’  

Astounding Inventions

Last year’s theme was a lot of fun and we learnt quite a bit! Here’s just a sample of some of the inspiring ideas and stories people shared with us…

  • Gadget Trail (Shoreham Society, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex): 'Shoreham-by-Sea has a wealth of history when it comes to innovation. We thought it would be fun to show people some of the astounding things that can be found in our own homes and show them off to the community. Venues across Shoreham-by-Sea will be displaying gadgets in their windows. A few weeks beforehand a detail of a gadget will be posted regularly on local Facebook sites inviting people to guess the gadget and where they can go to find out what the gadget is.'    (We love how this one got the community involved and explored everyday wonders)
  • From Fingers to Forks (Flintham Museum, Nottinghamshire): 'Discover how inventions and innovations over the centuries have changed the food we eat, the way we eat it, and how we shop. We are so busy buying food, cooking and eating it that we often don't realise how our diets and shopping habits have changed over the centuries. We've developed from hunter gatherers to growing crops as well as taming and rearing animals. We've experimented with different foods, with cooking methods and buying patterns until, with the click of a button, cooked food arrives at our doorsteps ready to eat. Visit us to see if you can match a set of cards showing food, eating or shopping innovations onto a timeline through the centuries. You may be surprised when the answers are revealed.'    (Last year’s theme was Edible England and we loved Flintham Museum's entry for that, but this year they get a shout out for how they have evolved their festival entry to reflect the new theme)
  • Astounding Inventions Tour (Bristol Old Vic, Bristol): 'Come and explore 256 years of theatrical innovation and invention, including seeing the only surviving Thunder Run in the world! This year, we’re celebrating the cutting-edge creations that make theatre possible and the imaginative inventors behind them. Our guides will expertly peel back all the layers of our building, from Haworth Tompkins’ innovative renovation of our foyer space in 2018 to the work of the Theatre’s original architects and engineers in the 1760s. You will also be able to step into the Theatre’s original roof space and view our iconic Thunder Run.' (We love this one for the all the different layers of invention it covered, architectural as well as theatrical)
A long wooden contraption in the roof eves of an attic.
The astounding 'thunder run', just one of the inventions explored at Bristol Old Vic this year. (© Jon Craig)


  • Meet Our Mad Scientists (Warrington Museum, Cheshire): 'Come and meet some Mad Scientists from Community Objectives, who will take you through how to earn your 'Astounding Inventor' badge.'
  • Astounding Inventions at Portland Museum (Portland Museum Trust, Dorset): 'A showcase and talk about an astounding artefact found on a shipwreck.'

Special Awards

The all rounder

The Invention of the Apple (Museum of Cider, Herefordshire): 'The 'humble apple' is anything but! It's complex and has a fascinating story - find out how people down the centuries have invented new fruits and new ways to grow and use them! The Science and Art of the apple.'

This one could have been a winner in every category. Plus, by registering very early they also became our ‘go to’ event to help explain to other organisers what was possible with our theme, as well as being top of the list for inclusion in our press releases.

An illustration of three men turning a wheel press. One side has a funnel of apples. There are several barrels of apples nearby too.
The 'Vinetum Britannicum' from 1678 describes a new invention to help convert the humble apple into cider! (© Creative Commons)
Organisation with the most nominations

University of Cambridge

The University has been coordinating festival events in the city for years and always come up with interesting new offers. They register their events with great titles and snappy descriptions so had the most nominations across the board in our writing categories this year, with gems like: ‘From Darwin to Dodos: Guided tour of the Museum of Zoology’ + ‘Dare-devils, Boffins and Cowboys: WWII Technology in your lives today’.

Recurring festival favourite

‘Drainspotting’ – Sheffield’s Victorian Pavement Features (Calvin Payne, Hidden Sheffield Walks, South Yorkshire): 'A look at the history under our feet. Discover the social heritage that we walk over every day.'

This guided walk is a staple of the festival and special to the team. Every time a new person joins us and starts to look through the directory odds are they will pick this event out as a highlight with joyful glee. It is just a brilliant example of how Heritage Open Days is community led and encourages people to look at every aspect of our heritage – we’re not just an open door festival.

A metal drain, set in the side of a tarmacked road.
History is everywhere... one event reminds us to look down as well as up! (© Ranmoor Road Local Board)

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