It's time to go Through the Keyhole
Is there a building you've always wanted to look around? Now's your chance, possibly.
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 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
Suffolk Punch Heavy Horse Museum, Woodbridge
Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge
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
“Town to Sea” Trail Guided Tour, Colchester
Audley Chapel, Colchester
Bourne Mill Open Day, Colchester
Colchester Castle Museum
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
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
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.”