Historic buildings in our area are throwing open their doors for Heritage Open Days. Mischa Allen has a sneak preview
Queen Victoria’s foot stool, miniature models of buildings, remnants of 1950’s time capsules, faded drawings and memorabilia from the Mary Rose. All these antiques casually litter a small room, half way up Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral’s South West Tower.
Standing in the ‘artefacts room,’ it is easy to see the vast amount of history that has accumulated inside.
Such areas are normally cut off the public, but for one weekend a year Heritage Open Days opens up hidden rooms and quiet spaces up and down the country.
The nationwide scheme is run by National Heritage and celebrates England’s culture by opening up museums, galleries, factories and even churches for the public to have a look inside.
Run by volunteers, it’s England’s biggest and most popular voluntary cultural event.
With every event free of charge, visitors get the chance to see parts of their city, village or town that are normally hidden away.
In our city, two of the biggest Heritage Open Days taking place are at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral.
The land was given to the Augustinian Canons of Southwick Priory in 1180 by a wealthy land owner, Jean de Gisors, who asked them to build a chapel dedicated to honour St Thomas of Canterbury, who was murdered in his own cathedral 10 years before.
The building went on to become a parish church in the 14th century, and finally a cathedral in the 20th century.
During the Civil War, Royalist Portsmouth used the church tower to observe enemy forces and the Parliamentary gunners of Gosport were just across the harbour.
In 1642 they fired on the tower, and to this day there is a cannon ball in the cathedral (see previous page).
During the open days there will also be workshops normally designated for school visits made available to the public.
Rosemary Fairfax, education officer for the cathedral, says: ‘Children and adults will be able to dress up as bishops and monks, and we’re also going to build a replica archway together.
‘There are all sorts of interesting and original things to look at. I’ve been here a long time but I’m still learning new things every day.
‘People always come here and see things they never knew about.’
Not only will parts of the cathedral be open to the public, but items will be on show such as the 17th century marriage certificate of King Charles II and Catherine Of Braganza, parish registers from Portsmouth Records Office and even a handwritten letter by Admiral Lord Nelson to the cathedral.
It also serves as a parish church to a population of around 5,000, and is a mother church (under the supervision of a bishop) to 750,000 people.
Shirley Grayson–Smith, who is also one of the education officers, adds: ‘The Heritage Open Days are very important for the community. It makes sure that people know what heritage they have in Portsmouth because often they didn’t know what we’ve got.
‘We love doing it, and are very much looking forward to it.’
The cathedral will be open on Saturday September 10 from 10am until 4pm, and Sunday September 11 from 12.30pm until 4pm.
In addition, there will be choral evensong on Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at 6pm.