Byline: By Amy Cartmell
A glimpse behind closed doors of some of the North East's most important buildings will give new insight into the region's past.
For the first time the Newcastle home of world-renowned engineer Robert Stephenson will be open to the public next month.
The private home is one of 40 new venues which can be visited as part of Heritage Open Days 2003.
Altogether, 111 buildings, tours and talks in Gateshead, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside and Sunderland will be open for the nation's biggest free celebration of architecture, history and culture.
Last year was a huge success with more than 20,000 visits to 84 properties, tours and talks.
The four-day event will give free access and guided tours of landmarks such as the Tyne Tunnels and Bessie Surtees' House, as well as a tour of the Jesmond Old Cemetery chapels.
The Moot Hall in Newcastle and the Grade Two listed Bensham Grove Community Centre in Gateshead, the family home of Liberal activist and scholar Robert Spence-Watson, are taking part for the first time, along with the Customs House and Souter Lighthouse in South Tyneside.
In Sunderland, Fullwell Mill will be open to the public and visitors can take part in a one-off geology roadshow.
Other new events include a Blaydon Races and Joseph Cowen walk, a talk about The Sage Gateshead, a children's walk around Grainger Town and a tour of the Grainger Market. Fiona Cullen, heritage officer for Newcastle City Council, said: "There are 40 new venues since last year. Some are places the public rarely have access to, like Grey's Monument and the Swing Bridge.
"Guides will be on hand to give some of the history of each building. We want to improve the heritage open days by increasing the number of venues and the information we publish about the event.
"But the weekend is only made possible by the generous time and effort of all the volunteers at the participating buildings, tours and talks and we've had support from organisations including The Barbour Trust, Lamb & Edge and Eversheds."
This year's event takes place between Friday September 12 and Monday September 15. It is advisable to book earlier for some of the more popular tours, such as Grey's Monument and the Swing Bridge.
A guide giving details of all the participating buildings, tours and talks throughout Tyne & Wear is available at local tourist information centres and libraries.
Information about the event can also be found at www.newcastle.gov.uk/hods or http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/hods or by phoning the Civic Trust on 020 7389 1396.
Jules Brown, planner at North East Civic Trust, said: "It's certainly the biggest and best in Tyne & Wear. There are 11 properties and events over four days.
"It's the only opportunity this year to get into many of these places free - and in some cases to get access at all. It's a great chance for anyone and everyone to learn and explore places ranging from Hadrian's Wall to Byker Wall."
Places taking part,
1. Baltic The Centre for Contemporary Art
2. Banqueting House, Gibside;
3. Bensham Grove Community Centre
4. Birtley Walk
5. Blaydon Races and Joseph Cowen Walk
6. Bradley Gardens
7. Bridges Conservation Area Walk
8. Durham Road Baptist Church
9. Gateshead Central Library
10. Gateshead Civic Centre
11. Gateshead Millennium Bridge Talk
12. Gateshead Quays Visitor Centre
13. Gateshead Town Centre Walk
14. Gibside Estate
15. Holy Cross Church, Ryton
16. Little Theatre
17. Path Head Water Mill