Magazine article History Today

Civic Secrets Unlocked

Magazine article History Today

Civic Secrets Unlocked

Article excerpt

Those with a fascination for historic buildings and a strong urge to peak through the keyhole of doors marked 'No Entry' can indulge their curiosity on a massive scale next month when, on September 14th and 15th, as part of Heritage Open Days 96, nearly 2,000 private properties in Britain allow visitors to cross their thresholds.

Funded by the Department of National Heritage as part of a Council of Europe initiative involving over thirty European countries (a French idea piloted in the early 80s was the original inspiration), this now regular event has for the past three years been coordinated by the Civic Trust who last year saw the number of visitors double from 1994, to half-a-million.

The Trust is responsible for persuading a variety of owners to throw open their doors -- from David Mellor, the cutlery designer (whose round factory at Hathersage was inspired by the old gasworks that once stood on its site), to his political namesake's successor, the Minister for Heritage, Lord Inglewood.

Kate Anderton, Coordinator at the Civic Trust, explains: 'Heritage Open Days 96 is England's open house weekend, providing free access to hundreds of fascinating buildings of all ages, types and styles that are not normally open or that usually charge an entrance fee. The event aims to celebrate the wealth of England's architectural and cultural heritage and to promote awareness of the contemporary architecture that will form the heritage of tomorrow'.

Established in 1957, the Civic Trust was founded in a climate of post-war reconstruction as an independent charity with the two-fold purpose of protecting existing sites of historic value and improving the quality of the everyday built environment; campaigning against mediocre architectural design, urban decline and unsustainable development. Nearly a thousand local civic societies have helped lobby owners to take part in the Open Days and parallel events are organised in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Among the many buildings drawing back their bolts over the weekend are such treats as the Bishop's Palace, Hereford, a Grade I listed medieval hall dating from 1189 and thought to be the oldest continuously-inhabited house in England Northlees Hall, Derbyshire, the inspiration for Thornfield Park, Mr Rochester's home in Jane Eyre; and Hutton-in-the-Forest, Penrith, Lord Inglewood's family seat since the beginning of the seventeenth century, built around a medieval pele tower.

There will be a chance to enter the portals of the Crown Court at York Castle designed by John Carr in the late-eighteenth century, to survey the panelled board room of the same period at the Radcliffe Infirmary and to admire the newly-renovated Baroque interior of Witley Parish Church, Hereford and Worcester. …

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