7 top events for Hampshire’s Heritage Open Days

Nicky Gottlieb and Becky Brown organise Winchester's Heritage Open Days credit Mike Hall

Nicky Gottlieb and Becky Brown organise Winchester's Heritage Open Days credit Mike Hall - Credit: Mike Hall

With so many events cancelled in 2020, Heritage Open Days in Hampshire will be more popular than ever as they shine a light on the county’s hidden historical sites

Travel through the history of the Theatre Royal with Historical Huzzahs' online film credit Historic

Travel through the history of the Theatre Royal with Historical Huzzahs' online film credit Historical Huzzahs - Credit: Historical Huzzahs

Five years ago, Winchester’s Heritage Open Days were the county’s best kept secret. So secret in fact, that the majority of the county didn’t even know they were taking place. That was, until one particular local resident, Nicky Gottlieb, discovered the yearly event (this year taking place between September 11-20) and took it upon herself to ask more of the city’s hidden heritage sites to open up their doors.

Fast forward to 2019 and Nicky, together with local resident and now friend Becky Brown, has managed to grow the events in and around Winchester from six to 145. The pair have become so successful, they have branched out from the National Heritage Open Days organisation, to create their own Winchester Heritage Open Days website; with a brand-new podcast to boot using the skills and expertise of University of Winchester students. Nicky explains, “It still amazes me today that there are still so many people who don’t know what Heritage Open Days are about; it’s been around for over 25 years now and was first started down in Gosport even longer ago than that. I first got invited to an event run by a friend and when I looked into it I thought ‘why isn’t Winchester doing more’.”

In her own words Nicky set to work, “knocking on doors and calling people in the hope that everyone would have the same view as me, that Winchester is just an amazing place.” She started putting together a programme and in the first year, had over 40 unique events signed up.

With the quarter of a century celebratory year in 2019, Nicky, Becky and the other Heritage Open Days teams were looking forward to a bigger and better 2020 with the new theme of Hidden Nature, sparking interest around the county. That was, until Covid-19 hit and Hampshire plunged in to lockdown. In March, when the duo would usually be opening the application process and commencing with planning for the September events, everything ground to a halt. Not ones to be deterred however Nicky says, “There was always definitely an appetite to do something but because of Covid, back in March, nobody really knew how long it was going to go on for or what was really going to happen, so I think we were all being a bit cautious. The National team took a survey around the country to find out what everyone wanted to do, did they want to delay it or do something different? But the feedback was all ‘no let’s just go ahead’. We certainly felt that we were going to do something whatever.”

Peek inside the Fellows Library at Winchester College credit Nicky Pascoe/Winchester College

Peek inside the Fellows Library at Winchester College credit Nicky Pascoe/Winchester College - Credit: Nicky Pascoe/Winchester College

Becky continues, “For us, we were really keen to keep the flame of Heritage Open Days alive. We were all getting really excited and then suddenly it was lockdown and we realised we just had to wait and see.”

Like everyone else around the county, Nicky and Becky waited with baited breath to see when things may start to be lifted and finally, in July, they got the call to say that the 2020 Heritage Open Days events were all to go ahead. With an emphasis on following government guidelines, the pair have managed to put together an amazing series of unique and exclusive events both digitally and in-person, working in partnership with businesses and organisations around the city and beyond.

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Relationships with Winchester College (who are sponsors and keen supporters), Winchester Cathedral and the Theatre Royal have meant that visitors to the Heritage Open Days events will get to see and discover parts of the city they never knew even existed. Many of the pair’s contacts are also this year offering exclusive online talks and tours, and there are some fascinating interviews to be found via the Winchester Heritage Open Days Podcast and YouTube channels.

With so many other events and festivals being cancelled already this year Nicky says, “We felt we so wanted to contribute something and that there were so many things out there that could easily be filmed and digitalised, it was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss.” And most importantly as Becky says, “With Hampshire and Winchester being just so special, we wanted to support all the businesses that take part, the museums, etc and all the amazing enthusiasts out there that get so passionate about things. You just want to support them in some way.”

Head online for a private tour of Winchester's hidden heritage credit Simon Roberts/Winchester Colle

Head online for a private tour of Winchester's hidden heritage credit Simon Roberts/Winchester College - Credit: Simon Roberts/Winchester College

Despite the pandemic, 2020’s Heritage Open Days have adapted and developed to ensure that residents can enjoy even more of Hampshire’s hidden past. And it’s thanks to people like Nicky and Becky that the Open Days ‘flame’ has been truly kept alive for another wonderful year.

Winchester’s Top 5 events

Historical Huzzahs invites you to ‘Travel Through Time’

In their new witty, fun and informative video about the fascinating history of the Theatre Royal Winchester, Historical Huzzahs invites you to ‘Travel Through Time’ to discover the history of the renowned institution and the stunning period building it today calls home. The Theatre Royal has been an integral part of Winchester for over 40 years. Now, 170 years since the building’s birth, this great online film is perfect for families and young children. View online here

Hidden Winchester: Discovering the History, Art and Architecture of Winchester College

Curated by the Head of Art History, Adam Rattray, this is a rare opportunity to view Winchester from rooftops and towers, with stunning panoramas across the city and into the heart of the school. This new film illuminates those areas not usually open to the public, and generally hidden from view, uncovering the histories within; from the Headmaster’s study to the medieval College lavatory.

14 to 23 September. View online here

Inside the Fellows’ Library: Exploring the Rare Books of Winchester College

A new film, produced exclusively for Heritage Open Days 2020, explores the stories and historic, national significance of the rare books in Winchester College’s Fellows’ Library, whilst taking in the beautiful buildings that house them. Led by Fellows Librarian, Dr Richard Foster and Assistant Curator, Dr Sarah Griffin, the film follows the development of the collection over 600 years taking in a variety of subjects from poetry, theology and music, to history, science and geography. It considers how these books illuminate key moments in history – the invention of the printing press, the translation of the Bible, and a scientific revolution in the 17th century. It includes the writings of Shakespeare, Austen and Keats as well as the work of artists and illustrators from the 12th century to the present day. View online here

The Great Hall - Hidden Secrets

Join Hampshire County Council for a virtual exploration of the history of The Great Hall from the beginnings of Winchester Castle to the hall’s use as a court of law. Discover the secrets of the Former Grand Jury room and explore the former holding cells with your virtual guide. They will share some the secrets and hidden places of this historical site with a selection of virtual talks especially for Heritage Open Days.

Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September - 11am and 3pm. View online here

A Virtual Walking Tour of Medieval Winchester

Join Dr Cindy Wood on an amazing virtual walking tour which explores the hidden secrets of Medieval Winchester, all from the comfort of your own home. View online here

And beyond...

Hidden Nature Trail for Families, Lepe Country Park

Follow a special trail to discover the Hidden Nature of this coastal conservation area. Visitors of all ages will enjoy discovering where and when plant and animal species have been recorded in the park, and looking out for wildlife which can still be spotted today.

Friday 11 to Sunday 20 September, 10am to 4pm

Romsey Signal Box

Train enthusiasts will love this chance to see this Victorian signal box in action! Closed in 1982, but now restored to full working order, visitors on an hour’s guided tour will be able to observe a demonstration of its operating points, clearing signals and ringing bells.

Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September, 11am to 4pm (booking required)

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