Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, and every year there are thousands of FREE events taking place. This year, the festival is from 11th to 20th September, and for the first time, no matter where you are in the world, you can join in the fun of England’s Heritage Open Days as many events are online.

I discovered Heritage Open Days five years ago, and had a whale of a time. In fact I had such a good time I decided to find out if I could help organise it the following year. It wasn’t long before I found myself meeting the brilliant woman behind Winchester’s festival, Nicky Gottlieb. The meeting went well, so well that since late 2016 I have been helping to coordinate and promote events, run the website, box office and social media, recruit volunteers and encourage organisations to take part in and around Winchester. Best of all though Nicky has become a great friend and Winchester Heritage Open Days is now one of the largest Heritage Open Days hubs in the country. We even have our own podcast channel. Not bad for two part time volunteers!

I must admit I can’t quite believe the festival is almost upon us, and what a festival it is going to be. Nicky and I really didn’t know who would be taking part this year given Covid-19. We were hopeful we might be able to put on a dozen events, but always knew last year’s extravaganza of 145 events would not be happening. However local residents, museums, charities and businesses have done Winchester and Hampshire proud. We have nearly 70 taking place in and around Winchester, some of which are in-person events. You can discover more on our festival website, and because you are such fabulous blogging friends I have highlighted a few online ones I thought you might like.

Mike Hall has been photographing the Winchester Heritage Open Days festival since 2016, and this year he is running a photographic exhibition. Hidden Winchester offers a story of the rich heritage and nature in the surrounding with every image telling the story of how it came to be. More information here.

Join Susan Simmonds from Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust online on the first day of the festival to learn about life within a local chalk stream and to have an opportunity to look at some of these creatures live through a digital microscope. An event for the whole familybook here.

The Watercress Company are sharing a magical, unforgettable insight into their farms’ heritage, history and wildlife. This isn’t a film about watercress, this is a film about all the elements that make watercress the king of the greens! Visually this film is stunning with the use of x-ray portraits from the world renowned artist Hugh Turvey. More information here.

Alfred the Great, the most acclaimed of all the Anglo-Saxon kings, was known as a just and fair ruler. So, what earned him the title of ‘the Great’ and why is Wessex known as the last kingdom? The founder of HistFest, Rebecca Rideal speaks with Professor Ryan Lavelle on Wednesday 16th about Alfred’s life and sets out to find the answers to these questions and more. Book here.

We even have online workshops! Join head calligrapher Phillip Johnson for this special, online scribe workshop filmed at Winchester Cathedral, and you can have a go at calligraphy from your own home as part of Heritage Open Days 2020. This event will be an online event available from 11th September through the Winchester Cathedral website. More information here.

Join us for an interview with Melanie Backe-Hansen, research consultant for the BBC programme, ‘A House Through Time’ . Melanie will be interviewed by Annie Reilly, from the National Trust, on 17th September about her work as an independent historian, researcher, writer and speaker, specialising in the social history of houses across the UK. Book here.

    Hidden beneath our feet in Hampshire, is one of England’s most important, prehistoric relics – chalk. In this film learn about the relationship between the chalk and viticulture, and visit one of the finest producers in the country, Exton Park. Available on the festival YouTube Channel.

    A thousand years ago, Hampshire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, and Kent were the heartlands of the four great dialects of Old English: West Saxon, Northumbrian, Mercian and Kentish. This online lecture will explore the stories of Hampshire and Yorkshire. Book here.

    Founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, Winchester College has remained in continuous operation, on its original site, for longer than any other school in England. This film explores the stories and historic, national significance of the rare books in Winchester College’s Fellow’s Library, whilst taking in the beautiful buildings that house them. Watch it here during the festival.

    Now remember that whilst every event is FREE, some events you do need to book in advance and others will only be available a few days. So I strongly recommend using this weekend to check the programme, to put times in your diary and most importantly to book where necessary. If you live in England why not search the national website for what else there is on, there could be an in-person event happening near your home.

    And finally a little plea. Wherever you live, if you have a moment to visit the festival website and tell your friends about it please do. As I think I mentioned at the start Nicky and I are volunteers, and so every visit to the website, follow on Twitter or Instagram or subscription to YouTube helps us build our story for grants and sponsorship. We’d really value your support in promoting the festival and in building followers online.

    29 thoughts

    1. I’m glad your festival is moving forward. Although the U.S. is a mess, many individuals areas are doing well. At least half the country is now considered “safe” or “safe enough,” including all of New England and much of the Northwest. No festivals, though. No big gathering. Not yet. We’ve got a ways to go.

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      1. So have we here. Winchester has few cases but even so we’ve only got a handful of in-person events and of those only a couple will have more than a dozen people. The numbers are overall increasing nationwide with local lockdown in places, so we’re being very cautious even here. Most of our events are online.


      1. Yup, only 5 in Winchester. Wish city council were as impressed as you are!! Nearly 30 in Gosport, they’re really amazing 👏


    2. What a fabulous opportunity for you, Becky, and by the looks an rewarding experience for all. If we were still over there we would certainly join in! All the best for a successful event/s.

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    3. We know how much effort you’ve put into this, hon. And just look at the results! 🙂 🙂 I was with Sue in fancying Hampshire/Yorkshire but I’ve not made any bookings. I need to check what is happening in the Durham area.

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      1. There are still tickets available for that. More were released so do book on. 🙂 Sue and Margaret are going so you’ll be in excellent company

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    4. You’ve all worked so hard Becky, and this looks fabulous. I’ve bookmarked several things. Maybe being forced on line has made this event even richer than it might otherwise have been.

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      1. Thank you so much Margaret. Can’t wait to find out what you plan to see. And do tell your family, the grandchildren might enjoy the online microscope session in a chalk stream!

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