It's time to go Through the Keyhole

Is there a building you've always wanted to look around? Now's your chance, possibly.

Steven Russell

Is there a building you've always wanted to look around? Now's your chance, possibly. As the UK prepares to open buildings of architectural and historic interest, Steven Russell and James Marston check what East Anglia has to offer

MOST of us are curious - nosy, even - and relish the opportunity for a Through the Keyhole moment. Now's the time to start planning, as the second weekend of September brings the annual Heritage Open Days, which means that around the UK some intriguing and interesting places will be welcoming visitors free of charge - properties that are either not usually open, or would normally charge an entrance fee. There are follies, modern buildings, plenty of churches, factories, tunnels, temples, offices, private homes, industrial sites, castles, windmills, town halls and more.

The list includes the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, where the personal papers of Sir Winston Churchill and almost 600 politicians, civil servants, military leaders and scientists are kept.

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In Ipswich, some of the town's landmarks are opening their doors, including The Old Custom House on the waterfront that was built in 1844 with red brick and white stone.

Des Pawson, director of the Ipswich Maritime Trust, says “Ipswich has been a port for 1,000 years and the building replaced a previous Old Custom House on the same site. The ground floor will be open to the public.”

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The entrance leading to the blue door on the ground floor is the first point of interest. Des says: “The entrance is designed so there is an echo that was used in the past when hiring casual labourers from the waterfront.” Behind the low blue door - duck your head! - are rooms that were used to store bonded goods such as wine and spirits that had taxes paid on them.

“Inside, the Ipswich Maritime Trust has an exhibition of paintings, models and dioramas loaned from Ipswich Museum. It is rarely seen by the public.” Pictures of how the previous customs house and docks used to look, as well as examples of port records, will be on display.

Des added: “There is an interesting vaulted ceiling to see, as well as the remains of two police cells. There was also a police station at the back of the building, though we don't know exactly when it was last used.” The building should give visitors an understanding of how the dock worked and what the building was used for.

Additions to this year's Heritage Open Weekend include the University Campus Suffolk building on the waterfront, which will be open on Saturday, September 12. Constructed to high sustainability standards, the sedum roof is unique in the UK, being the only green of its size built on a 20-degree slope.

St Peter's, St Mary-at-the-Quay, and St Clement's, known as the Waterfront churches and dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, will also be open.

Dianne Hosking, of The Ipswich Society, says: “New also this year is Wherstead Hall, home of the Harland and Dashwood families since 1791, and now the headquarters of the East of England Co-operative Society. At the opposite end of town, Martlesham Heath Control Tower opens on the Sunday (September 13).

“In the town centre, Arlington's Brasserie in Museum Street has a fascinating history, and is open for meals and snacks through the heritage weekend.”

Ipswich Town Hall will be open, with exclusive access to the Mayor's Parlour and guided tours by the Town Sergeant on Saturday the 12th from 10.30am to midday. Other town centre buildings include Christ Church and the Unitarian Meeting House.

Outside Ipswich, Dianne says people will be able to see inside Freston Tower, restored as a holiday let, Royal Harwich Yacht Club and Woolverstone Hall, now the home of Ipswich High School.

Where to find details

Heritage Open Days are on and around Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13.

For information about precise opening days and times, any requirements to book and up-to-the-minute news, do check the Heritage Open Days website.

Other Suffolk locations opening:

Bethesda Baptist Church, St Margaret's Plain, Ipswich

Pykenham Gatehouse, Northgate Street, Ipswich

Admiral's House, Ipswich Institute, Tower Street

Freemasons Hall, 8-10 Soane Street, Ipswich

Town Hall, Cornhill, Ipswich

St Mary-at-Stoke, Stoke Street, Ipswich

Broomhill Swimming Pool, Sherrington Road, Ipswich

Leman House tours, Beccles

Culford Hall, Bury St Edmunds

Ickworth House, Park and Gardens, Horringer

Moreton Hall Preparatory School, Bury St Edmunds

Suffolk Regiment Museum, Bury St Edmunds

The Malthouse Project, Bury St Edmunds

Valley Farm, Flatford

Felixstowe Town Hall

Saxtead Mill, near Framlingham

Walpole Old Chapel, near Halesworth

Hadleigh Guildhall

Hadleigh St Mary Church

Lavenham Medieval Meander

Lavenham, Guided walk

Down Your Street, Lowestoft

Palace House, Newmarket

Christ Church United Reformed Church, Sudbury

Lavenham & The Guildhall

Melford Hall, Long Melford

St Peter Sudbury

History of the Red Cross in Woodbridge

Orford Castle

Orford Museum

Suffolk Punch Heavy Horse Museum, Woodbridge

Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge

Woodbridge Museum

Woodbridge Quay Church

Woodbridge Tide Mill


Alderford Water Mill, Braintree

Finchingfield Post Mill

Foresters Hall, Brightlingsea

Thorrington Tide Mill, Brightlingsea

The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Burnham on Crouch

Little Baddow History Centre

Pleshey Castle, near Chelmsford

Shire Hall, Chelmsford

Coggeshall Grange Barn

Paycocke's, Coggeshall

“Town to Sea” Trail Guided Tour, Colchester

Audley Chapel, Colchester

Bourne Mill Open Day, Colchester

Colchester Castle Museum

Colchester Crematorium

Colchester History Alive! Performances

Colchester Royal Grammar School

Colchester Town Hall

Colne Light Ship, Colchester

Costumed Tours of Colchester

Garrison Church, Colchester

Highwoods Country Park Heritage Walk, Colchester

Hythe Community Centre, Colchester

Lexden Tumulus, Colchester

Mercury Theatre, Colchester

MV Lotte, Colchester

NADFAS at Hollytrees Museum, Colchester

Peake's House, Colchester

Quaker Meeting House, Colchester

Roman Theatre Remains, Colchester

Sherman's, Colchester

Signals Media Arts: Step in to History at Hollytrees Museum, Colchester

Sparling, Benham & Brough Solicitors (Old Inn & House) Colchester

St Botolph's Church and Priory, Colchester

St Helen's Chapel, Colchester

St John's Abbey Gatehouse, Colchester

St Leonard at the Hythe Church, Colchester

St Martin's Church, Colchester

St Mary-at-the-Walls Church, Colchester

Thorington Hall, Colchester

Tymperleys Clock Museum, Colchester

Vintage Bus Rides, Colchester

Aythorpe Roding Post Mill, near Great Dunmow

Colne Valley Postal History Museum, Halstead

Guildhall Harwich

Harwich Electric Palace Cinema

Historic Harwich Walk

Lifeboat Museum, Harwich

Maritime Museum, Harwich

Radar Tower, Beacon Hill Fort, Harwich

Redoubt Fort, Harwich

The Treadwheel Crane, Harwich

Visitor Information Centre, Half-penny Pier, Harwich

All Saints' Church, Maldon

Beckingham Hall Gate House and Wall, Maldon

Beeleigh Rural Walkabout and Beeleigh Abbey Grounds, near Maldon

Beeleigh Water & Steam Mill, near Maldon

Canal Boat Shuttle Between Maldon and Beeleigh

Maeldune Heritage Centre, Maldon

Maldon District Museum

Maldon Quaker Meeting House

Maldon Riverside History Walk

St Giles Leper Hospital, Maldon

St Peter's Old Church, Maldon

The Heritage Play, Maldon

The Moot Hall, Maldon

The Museum of Power, Langford, near Maldon

Thomas Plume's Library, Maldon

Manningtree Methodist Church

Saffron Walden Museum

Blue Mills Mill, Witham

Braxted Park Estate, Witham

The Church of St Nicholas, Witham

It nearly didn't happen!

HERITAGE Open Days, which had been running for 14 years, was very nearly missing from the 2009 calendar. English Heritage previously helped the Civic Trust to fund and run the popular cultural event, but there was concern about its future after the Civic Trust in England went into administration - a shock for thousands of volunteers across the country who were already gearing up for another celebration of their local heritage.

But in May English Heritage took ownership of Heritage Open Days, securing the future of an event that features one million participants and 35,000 volunteer organisers. More than 3,500 historic and unusual buildings had been opening their doors to the public for free and putting on tours. Ninety per cent of the population apparently lives within 30 minutes of a Heritage Open Days location.

Last year the event attracted about one million visitors. Heritage Open Days was established in 1994 as England's contribution to European Heritage Days, in which 49 countries now participate.

Dr Simon Thurley, English Heritage chief executive, says: “Heritage Open Days is about people and places. It celebrates community and reflects the importance of the built environment in our lives and to our quality of life. It is organised by local people who dedicate their spare time to opening properties and staging activities, and it is their knowledge and enthusiasm that makes Heritage Open Days happen.”

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