Rare opportunities to see inside historical buildings as Portsmouth area gears up for Heritage Open Days

Fort Brockhurst is one of the popular locations involved in Gosport Heritage Open Days
Fort Brockhurst is one of the popular locations involved in Gosport Heritage Open Days
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Thousands of people are set to explore the area’s hidden heritage in open days that have been running for 25 years.

Now held over 10 days from September 13 to 22, Heritage Open Days sees scores of locations open to the public to celebrate history and culture for free.

An aerial view of Fort Brockhurst in Gosport. Picture: Gosport Heritage Open Days Team

An aerial view of Fort Brockhurst in Gosport. Picture: Gosport Heritage Open Days Team

Nationally, Heritage Open Days celebrates its 25th anniversary this year but events have run in Gosport since 1992.

Following the introduction of European Heritage Days in 1991, the town pioneered the concept in Britain before the national event was launched to become England’s largest festival of history and culture.

More than 70 events are taking place in Gosport alone and lots of them are new to this year’s line up.

They include a look inside Gosport Lifeboat Station at Stokes Bay, and a chance to be an archaeology surveyor.

Ann's Hill Cemetery, Gosport.             Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Ann's Hill Cemetery, Gosport. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Last year’s eight-day festival saw more than 16,000 people from across the country visit Gosport landmarks and tours. 

Richard Bourke, from the Gosport Heritage Days organising team, said: ‘Some people come to visit family in the south and make sure they’re here for the open days, and we still get a few people from abroad.

‘Being over two weekends, it gives people more of an opportunity to go to more than one event, and we’ve got new trips this year so that’s always good.’

Some particular highlights of this year’s offerings include a fully-booked rare opportunity to take a guided tour of the HMS Collingwood Heritage Collection, tours of the closed Royal Haslar Hospital’s grounds and a visit to the world’s only Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-the-Solent.

The Old Manor House by Martin Snape from the Bedhampton Historical Collection, before it was restored. The fully restored painting will be on display as part of Heritage Open Days

The Old Manor House by Martin Snape from the Bedhampton Historical Collection, before it was restored. The fully restored painting will be on display as part of Heritage Open Days

The popular HMS Sultan Fort Rowner tour was booked up so quickly that an extra time slot is being arranged so people can still get involved with this.

An unusual event which Richard is particularly looking forward to is Funerary and Flora at Ann’s Hill Cemetery, a guided walk around the old Victorian cemetery in Ann’s Hill Road.

It will offer people a chance to learn about its history, hear the stories behind the symbolism of the monuments and headstones, the importance of the landscaping and the hidden meaning of the flora.

Richard added: ‘We’re looking forward to Heritage Open Days and I’m sure it will be a success. It’s always nice to see new people come along. 

The Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Portsmouth Cathedral,  Portsmouth's Anglican Cathedral in Old Portsmouth'Picture by:  Malcolm Wells (190306-8513)

The Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Portsmouth Cathedral, Portsmouth's Anglican Cathedral in Old Portsmouth'Picture by: Malcolm Wells (190306-8513)

‘Being on the organising team, I still try and get to as many events as I can, I’m just looking forward to get going now.’

A selection of tours and events in Gosport require booking, with spaces being booked up quickly as the events get closer. Visit gosportheritage.co.uk/booking to guarantee a place.

Portsmouth’s contribution to the annual festival is increasing each year, with various locations set to inspire visitors this year.

One interesting addition to the lineup is free admission to the historic Phoenix Lodge Rooms in Old Portsmouth, which has been used by Freemasons since 1842.

On Saturday, September 21, visitors can gain see inside the building from 11am to 4.30pm and gain insight into the life of Freemasons past and present, including how to become a Freemason and what qualifications you need.

Portsmouth Cathedral will be offering specially-arranged talks and tours of parts of the building not normally open to the public from September 20 to 22.

This includes hourly talks on Thomas Becket, Benjamin Burgess and Jonas Hanway, bookable tours of the ringing chamber and lower bell tower and access to the singing gallery giving high level views through the Nave.

With such a wide range of experiences on offer, Southsea Skatepark will be taking part to show something a bit different on September 15 from 10am to 6pm.

Visitors will be able to spectate for free and see an exhibition of photographs of the skatepark's history in its various forms since the 1930s, or even hire some equipment and join in with the riding and skating.

It is not just historical buildings and places of interest which are on display throughout the Heritage Open Days scheme, as demonstrated by the one-day exhibition Bedhampton As Others Have Seen It.

It will display a collection of paintings by artists who were attracted to the beauty and tranquillity of Bedhampton in a bygone age. 

Part of the Heritage Open Days 2019 programme, it is on Sunday, September 15, at The Elms in Lower Road, Bedhampton and will be open from 11am to 4pm with free entry. 

When volunteers at the Bedhampton Historical Collection were preparing for an exhibition of paintings held in their collection, they had passed over a yellowed picture which they believed to be a print of an original oil painting in the Hampshire Cultural Trust collection.

The picture of the Old Manor House in Bedhampton was painted by Gosport artist, Martin Snape.

When they removed the picture from its frame, they discovered an original watercolour by Martin Snape of the same view of The Old Manor House, a building that was demolished in 1881.

The volunteers have since had the picture cleaned, conserved and reframed. 

Wendy Gossop, a volunteer with the group, said: ‘We were so excited when we found that our picture was an original.

'We are now looking for Martin Snape’s original pencil drawing of the Old Manor House that originally appeared in a booklet about Bedhampton, by the Rector of The Church of St Thomas, H. P. Stokes, in 1918. 

‘If anyone has information on its whereabouts, please contact us. We would love to think it is still somewhere in the area.’

Heritage Open Days relies on the generous support of volunteers from the locations and buildings which are being displayed, and from members of the public willing to give their time up for free.

Across the country, more than 40,000 volunteers will be involved with organising and running the 10-day festival which includes 5,000 events this year.

For the full list of Heritage Open Days across the area, visit heritageopendays.org.uk