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The best Heritage Open Days in Kent in September

Gallery at the Powell-Cotton museum [courtesy of the Powell-Cotton musuem]
Gallery at the Powell-Cotton museum [courtesy of the Powell-Cotton musuem]

Who doesn’t love a nose around a quirky building? This month welcomes the return of the annual Heritage Open Days, which sees hundreds of places and spaces across the country open their doors to visitors – and for free! Here’s just a taste of what we can look forward to exploring here in Kent.

The Powell-Cotton Museum

Powell Cotton Museum, Quex Park, Birchington, Kent, CT7 0BH

Join a 'highlights' tour of the museum or take a 'Quex House Tour' and discover the many stories of the people and places that made the museum. Children can grab a backpack and discover the museum differently using fun tools and activities.

Event Times

Saturday September 9: 1100-1500, Tours throughout the day

No booking required

Palace Cinema Broadstairs

Palace Cinema, Harbour Street, Broadstairs, Kent, CT10 1ET

Explore the unique story of the Palace, then take your seat for a tour of Broadstairs, Margate and Ramsgate as film locations! From the 1940s to the recent release, Empire of Light, discover local film heritage on screen.

Event Times

Friday September 15: 1300-1600

Saturday September 16: 1100-1400

No booking required

Canterbury Cathedral Historic Precincts Tour

Canterbury Cathedral, The Precincts, 14D The Precincts, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2EH

Discover how the Cathedral was first built then altered over time on this guided tour of its external architecture. Learn about the amazing craftsmanship and amusing gargoyles, hear why the Cathedral Crypt is above ground and how the feet of Stephen Langton, a major influencer of Magna Carta, are out in the cold.

Event Times

Friday September 8: 10:30am start, and 14:00pm start

Saturday September 16: 10:30am start

No booking required

Kent Mining Museum

Visitor Centre, Betteshanger Country Park, Sandwich Road, Deal, Kent, CT14 0BF

Visit this new museum about the mining industry in Kent and enjoy behind-the-scenes access to the archives. Delve into the stories behind the workings, people and lives within the local coalfield community.

Event Times

Saturday September 9: 0930 - 1600

Sunday September 10: 0930 - 1600

No booking required

Wanstone Rediscovered

Wanstone Battery , Reach Road, St. Margarets-at-Cliffe, Dover, Kent, CT15 6HY

A rare chance to see usually hidden parts of Wanstone Battery, a time capsule from the darkest days of the Second World War. Explore the site and see all of the archaeological and conservation work which has taken place so far, including the emplacement of the coastal gun, 'Jane'.

Event Times

Saturday September 9: 1000-1500

Sunday September 10: 1000-1500

No booking required

Faversham Stone Chapel

Four Oaks Road, Ospringe, Faversham, Kent, ME13 0TB

Join site volunteers to discover the hidden secrets of Faversham Stone Chapel; the only known example of a Romano-British temple or mausoleum that has been incorporated into a later Christian church. Faversham and Ospringe are rich in Roman history and this is your chance to find out more about it.

Event Times

Saturday September 16: Between 1pm and 3pm

No booking required

Experience Life in a First World War Trench

Kent County Show Ground, Detling Hill, Detling, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 3JF

Experience life in the trenches. Military and TV Historian Andy Robertshaw and his team have created a replica WW1 Front Line trench system complete with dugouts, machine gun positions, latrines and a first aid post. Take a tour through the trenches, meet 'Tommies' and German soldiers and learn about life in those most confined of spaces.

Event Times

Saturday September 9: 10.00 - 16:00

Sunday September 10: 10:00 - 16:00

No booking required

CWGC Tours 2023 - Chatham Naval Memorial

Chatham Naval Memorial, 61 Kings Bastion, Gillingham, Kent, ME7 5DQ

Chatham Naval Memorial commemorates 8,517 sailors of the First World War and 10,098 of the Second World War. Take part in a tour to learn more about this significant site and the origins of the unmistakeable memorial.

Event Times

Sunday September 10: 11:00

Pre-booking: Required

Mote Park Walks

Mote Park, Mote Avenue, Maidstone, Kent, ME15 7RN

See a different side to Mote Park. Join the Park Manager for a daytime walk exploring the living landscape, past and present, or take an early evening stroll to see the landscape as the sun goes down, keeping an eye out for the wildlife that appears at this special time of day.

Event Times

Tuesday September 12: 1100-1400

Thursday September 14: 1730-2030

Pre-booking: Required

Emmetts Garden

Emmetts Garden, Ide Hill, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 6BA

Visit one of the county’s high spots and enjoy panoramic views over the unspoilt Weald. The hillside garden is home to many rare trees and shrubs from across the world. Explore the Italianate rose garden, the rock garden, and the South Garden to see interesting specimens that come to life in early autumn.

Event Times

Friday September 15- Sunday 17: 1000-1700

No booking required

St Barnabas School

St. Barnabas C of E Primary School, Quarry Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1 2EY

Explore this Victorian Primary School set in what was the working-class centre of Tunbridge Wells. View albums of old school photos and registers as well as the original Headteacher's log books stretching back to the opening of the school in 1889. There will be an opportunity to join a guided tour.

Event Times

Saturday September 16: 1000-1500. (Tours every 30 minutes)

No booking required

Tunbridge Wells Cemeteries

Not one but two to appreciate over the course of the event

Tunbridge Wells Cemetery

Kent & Sussex Crematorium, Benhall Mill Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 5JJ

Who knew Tunbridge Wells was a hotbed of showbiz links? Join the Friends of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery as they celebrate the creativity of artists, writers, musicians, dancers and singers linked to this last resting place. Names such as that of conductor and composer Mantovani – he of that lush and opulent orchestral sound - are sure to come up for discussion.

Event Time

Sunday September 17 : 14.30-16.30

No booking required

Woodbury Park Cemetery

A walk serves as a fascinating introduction to this tucked-away Victorian gem, the final resting place of nearly 6,000 people from all classes and backgrounds of society; from paupers to priests and servants to shopkeepers.You’ll also learn about some of those who are buried there including Jane Austen’s brother, a notable local landscape painter and a maker of the famous Tunbridge Ware.

Event Time

Saturday September 9 : 1100

No booking required

Chartwell House, Gardens and Studio

Chartwell, Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1PS

Discover the house that Sir Winston Churchill called home, where he brought up his young family. Make your way through rooms like the library, study, sitting room and dining room displayed as if the family have only just left the room. The hillside gardens reflect Sir Winston’s love of nature while the studio is home to the largest collection of his paintings.

Event Times

Monday September 11: 1000-1700

No booking required

Quebec House

Quebec Square, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1TD

Discover the family home of James Wolfe, whose victory at the Battle of Quebec changed the course of history. In the gardens explore the creative history of Westerham, from the poetry written for royalty to the development of the First World War Nissen hut, and in the Coach House enjoy a display of works from local contemporary artists who keep the town's creative spirit alive today.

Event Times

Friday September 15- Sunday 17: 1100-1600

No booking required

Whitstable Community Museum & Gallery

5a Oxford Street, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 1DB

Whitstable people have devised many strategies to live well from the sea and land over thousands of years. Cultivating half the oysters eaten in London and building the world's second public railway are just two examples of their innovation and drive. Find out more about the town’s extraordinary history as museum volunteers tell local stories from the engineering, social and industrial perspectives. Lots to do for children, too.

Event Times

Friday September 8 – Sunday 10 : 10:30am - 4:30pm

Thursday September 14 – Sunday 17 : 10:30am - 4:30pm

No booking required

Great British Life: The Reynolds Painting of Dr Thomas now on display at Rochester CathedralThe Reynolds Painting of Dr Thomas now on display at Rochester Cathedral

Artistic Heritage on view

A rarely seen portrait by renowned artist Sir Joshua Reynolds is now on display at Rochester Cathedral to mark the Tricentenary of his birth. The portrait depicts former Bishop of Rochester, Dr John Thomas and was painted in 1781. It reunites the Bishop with his Cathedral for the first time since his death in 1793. Dr Thomas and Reynolds knew each other socially and appeared to have been friends. Reynold’s diary shows a number of appointments for dinner beyond the five or six sittings required for the painting. Sir Joshua Reynolds was friends with many of the leading figures in Georgian Britain and both men were part of the Georgian Royal Court with official appointments by King George III.

The portrait shows Dr Thomas, with Westminster Abbey in the background, wearing his Order of the Bath regalia. Remarkably, parts of the regalia featured in the portrait are still in the possession of Rochester Cathedral and will be displayed.

The painting itself has had an exciting life since being painted 243 years ago. One notable owner, French politician Jacques Leon Stern, escaped from the Nazis at the outbreak of World War Two taking the painting and his art collection with him. The portrait is currently privately owned. The owner approached Rochester Cathedral earlier this year and offered to loan the painting. He was keen to reunite the Bishop with his Cathedral and to mark the anniversary of one of Britain’s greatest artists.

Says Dean of Rochester, The Very Rev'd Dr Philip Hesketh,

“The story of how this painting came to be exhibited at the Cathedral is truly remarkable - definitely a case of divine providence. We are thrilled to have this stunning portrait on display and encourage everyone to come and see it while they can.“

The portrait will be on display at Rochester Cathedral January 2024. Admission to Rochester Cathedral is free.

Great British Life: Landmark Trust credit JOHN MILLERLandmark Trust credit JOHN MILLER

Live the Heritage Life

For anyone actually wanting to stay in a piece of history, The Landmark Trust is an ideal first port of call. One of Britain’s leading building conservation charities, it runs six properties in Kent, all of historic and architectural interest, that it opens for holiday lets. Options include Victorian architect and designer Augustus Pugin’s astonishing gothic revival home, The Grange, and the nearby St Edward’s Presbytery, which he created in 1850, both in Ramsgate. Alternatively there’s cosy Prospect Tower, on the Belmont Estate near Faversham, a flint folly built ‘on a whim’ in 1808 for the first Lord Harris and standing right on the edge of Belmont’s cricket pitch, the recently restored Georgian Cobham Dairy, built in the ornate style of an Italianate chapel, lovely old Obris Farm, which dates from Tudor times, and Hole Cottage on the Falconhurst Estate [see feature on page xxx], the surviving cross-wing of a late medieval, timber-framed hall house.

Coming next year

Exciting news too that there’s a new Landmark project on the horizon as part of the refurbishment of the Maison Dieu (‘House of God’) building at Dover. The building began its life as a monastery, created in around 1200, offering 'hospitality for all strangers', chiefly pilgrims travelling to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. It then went through many incarnations, until it was bought by Dover Corporation in 1834 to function as Dover's Town Hall. In 1859 architects William Burges and Ambrose Poynter were brought in to restore the building’s ancient fabric and convert it for its new role, repurposing spaces such as the Chapel, which became a courtroom, and the Stone Hall, which became a council chamber. William Burges in particular came up with some wonderfully colourful schemes and imaginative designs for the Town Hall and now Dover District Council (DDC) with support from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, is restoring the whole complex as part of a £10.5 million project to bring it back into use and open it to the public. Part of the building is to be given over to Landmark stays. Explains the charity, ‘Working with DDC and their architects, Landmark is delighted to have been asked to provide an end use for The Mayor’s Parlour Block, set in one corner of the upper ground floor with a private staircase to further rooms above. Burges’s full decorative schemes will be recovered in the main rooms of this block, which still has many of his original fittings. This will be a unique chance to experience living in rooms designed by this architectural master of the High Victorian period and a must for anyone captivated by the Gothic Revival – or simply wanting to explore the wonders of Dover Castle and its White Cliffs.’ Maison Dieu is hoping to reopen in renewed glory towards the end of 2024.


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