22 Sep 2023
by Heritage Open Days

Mosaic of images of pink open signs, a tea-pot decorated with HODs 'H's, doors with Open Signs and bunting in gardens and on buildings.
The famous HODs pink - love it or hate it, you can't miss it! Some of the signage we spotted on our travels this year.

Alongside managing the social media channels and taking turns with 'helpdesk duty' it's really important for us to see events in action. It helps us to support organisers locally and reconnect with the festival experience as visitors, to see where we might do more to help in future.

Jade – creativity unwrapped

This is my first year as part of the HODs team, and I was so excited to experience what the festival has to offer first hand. I kicked off my travels at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire (home to the world’s oldest garden gnome!) for a sunny day filled with insights into the world of heritage conservation. I really love this year’s theme of ‘Creativity Unwrapped’ and it was great to see so many sites embrace it. In Exeter, I discovered how many everyday phrases come from the woollen cloth trade in a lively talk at Tucker’s Hall, and my travels down to Liskeard led me to an extensive programme celebrating all things creative - from showcasing local makers and independent shops to hearing replica historical instruments. Finally, I ended my travels at the BFI National Archive for a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how films and film materials are preserved for future generations. It was a joy to visit so many wonderful sites and meet the passionate organisers behind them – bring on 2024! 
Dark wood panelled hall with arched ceiling. Table in the centre with woollen craft materials scattered on it.
Jade enjoyed unwrapping creativity at events like those spun at Tucker's Hall in Exeter this year.

Liam - mills, mandirs, and manners

I had the joy of attending 23 events across the festival and I came away with so many fascinating stories and historical tidbits. One of my highlights was delving into all the gossip and escapades of London/Brighton socialites during the 1800s (courtesy of the Regency Townhouse). And then a week later, I got to learn about the very different way of life for industrial workers at Torr Vale Mill during the same era, on the other end of the country. My festival experience was topped off by the amazing hospitality of our festival community, with much time spent drinking cups of tea, eating samosas, and even trying a wartime date and potato tart!

Three images. A stone mill in a wooded valley. Ornately carved arched supports over a passage. A  grand cream coloured terraced town house.
Liam's tour took in tales of the mill, mandir, and town house manners! (© HODs / BAPs Media)

Whether it was a mandir, or a mill (and that’s just the M’s!) there was a common thread of joy, community pride, and the passion for storytelling and sharing heritage across all the events I went to. I am awestruck by the power of our 2000+ strong community of organisers, who really do make the festival the success it is.

Charlotte - sea shanties to Shakespeare

I really enjoyed the opportunity to ‘unwrap’ even more of England’s creative heritage by visiting a handful of the amazing events that our fantastic organisers had put on. I got an insight into life on the seven seas below deck on HMS Warrior, embracing the merriment and comradery sea shanties brought to all those on board in Portsmouth. My adventures then led me north where I discovered Proggy mat making in Sunderland, a traditional crafting technique of old fabric being cut into strips and threaded through hessian – I even met the famous Oggy the Proggy Froggy. To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s first Folio I then ventured to Durham to explore another dimension of the bard's work, with scent, creating a small-scented sachet using herbs Shakespeare names in his plays. I was also enchanted with the treasures discovered within the literature collection at Durham Cathedral, both the extensive number as well as the beautiful hand drawn diagrams within. I then got a further creative insight seeing the Falchion Sword, which killed the Sockburn Worm and, if legend is correct inspired the Vorpal blade in Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”.

Woman stands with back to us looking out over boat rail to a view of city buildings across the water.
Charlotte prepares to sing a sea shanty before setting sail for more northern adventures!

Alex - coming back for more

After five years exploring Heritage Open Days events across the country, you’d think that I should be experiencing some form of ‘festival fatigue’. Fear not… as HODs is the gift that keeps on giving! Over the 2nd festival weekend, I hit the road and discovered the very best that the Midlands had on offer… from a behind the scenes tour of Northampton’s Deco Theatre (once host to The Rolling Stones & The Beatles), to an afternoon of apple picking & pressing at Sinai Park House. However it was the final event I visited which turned out to be my HODs highlight of 2023. An evening of exploring Claymills Pumping Station was a perfect example of the extraordinary effort and enthusiasm of volunteers and staff at events across the country. From the very first bathroom in Burton upon Trent to have electric light, to the steam driven beam engines (& custom-made spanners), I saw first-hand what life was like for the engineers who delivered the Industrial Revolution… all of which was brought to life by the superb volunteer guides! This year, yet again, I found out why so many people (including myself) keep coming back for more each September!

Two images: Man holding giant metal spanner in front of a bench and a row of spanners beneath a window / Tall brick building, its windows lit up.
Alex is always ready to work, here he is with one of Claymill's custom made spanners!

Sarah – a game of two halves

7 trains, 1 taxi and miles upon miles of walking in hot sunshine took me up north and across from Merseyside to Yorkshire via Manchester to start the festival in style! Not only were those three days packed with events from a suffragette sonnets workshop to a curious collection in the oldest shop in town, but they were full of wonderful people. I caught up with coordinators I’ve been speaking to all year, and some of the, always extraordinary, local organisers and volunteers. Thanks to them I learnt about tropical fish in a canal and had a go at the ancient art of hand bell ringing among other things.

Pink bunting hung on metal railings in front of a stone church flying a flag from its tower.
Seen from all across the town, Sarah loved this, look close - Dewsbury Minster literally flew the flag for the festival atop its tower!

All the walking had my knee complaining though so my second weekend was enforced rest – but did that stop the festival discoveries? Of course not! I was able to cross from Gosport to Berwick online, learning about the first women on the railways, medieval fortifications, houses carved out of solid sandstone and the beautiful art of our inland waterways. In person or from the comfort of an armchair, there’s always so much to explore with Heritage Open Days!

What did you discover?

A huge thank you to everyone involved in the festival this year, be it by visiting, organising or volunteering.

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