Hertfordshire Heritage Open Days: 11 of the county's best

Rothamsted Manor, Hertfordshire

Rothamsted Manor - Credit: National Trust

Heritage Open Days, run by the National Trust, is a chance to experience fascinating historic sites in the county, many of which are usually closed to the public. Here's our pick of the bunch to visit...

Rothamsted Manor, Harpenden, September 11-19
This is a once-a-year opportunity to visit this grand Grade I, Jacobean manor house.

Head back in time to wander the many beautiful rooms decorated with paintings and rarely seen 16th century murals.

Rothamsted Manor evolved from a modest dwelling during the 13th century, developed by Sir John Wittewronge, an early weather diarist.

Its most famous inhabitant was Sir John Bennet Lawes who began agricultural research here in the 19th century. 

Rothamsted Research is now one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, while the manor is now used for private events.

As well as self-guided tours of the house and gardens, visitors can enjoy cream teas, lawn games, science activities and cookery demonstrations.

There will also be stalls, a scavenger hunt and a photography competition.

Berkhamsted Castle.

Berkhamsted Castle. - Credit: Supplied by Heritage Open Days

Berkhamsted Castle, Berkhamsted, Tours: September 10-19cooking demos: September 12-13
This heritage hotspot is steeped in 1,000 years of history.

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It was at the site of Berkhamsted Castle that the Anglo-Saxons surrendered to the invading William in December 1066, making him 'the Conqueror'.

Numerous English kings and queens have walked within the castle's walls have walked. Archbishop Thomas Becket, Edward the Black Prince and Geoffrey Chaucer were residents and Cecily Nevillemother of Edward IV and Richard III, died here.

The castle was given as a gift to the first three of Henry VIII’s wives. The site, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall is now a scheduled ancient monument and is considered the best remaining example of a motte and bailey castle in the country.

As well as tours (you need to book) there will be medieval cookery demonstrations with dishes prepared based on The Forme of Cury, a 14th-century collection of English recipes. 

Mill Green Museum, Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Mill Green Museum - Credit: Tony Prezio/Hitchin TV

Mill Green Museum & Mill, Hatfield, September 12
Discover the rich history of edible England going back over a thousand years at the site of a working water mill.

The mill is powered by the river Lea and the site has been used for milling since at least the Domesday Book.

Visitors can experience the restored 18th century mill in action while learning about the journey of food from field to fork: from wheat to the grain that's milled and the flour produced.

Create bouquet garnis from the mill's gardens, discover recipes through the ages, learn about the tradition of corn dollies and take home freshly milled flour and local honey.

Vendors will also be selling treats made from the mill's organic wholemeal flour. 

Piccotts End, Hemel Hempstead, September 18-19
This early 16th century Tudor Hall House has extremely rare and important wall paintings, created just before Henry VIII's break with Rome.

The unique paintings housed in the Grade I listed building include images of Christ in Majesty, the Virgin Mary, the Baptism of Jesus, St Clement, St Peter, St Katherine and St Margaret.

They were painted in 1527, just before the Reformation, as a statement of Catholic support at a time of religious turmoil in the country, and are the only surviving examples in the country.

Tours and a talk on the history of the building will run every hour from 10am (booking required).

It can be thirsty work, exploring the past, so refresh yourself with tea, coffee and homemade cakes. 

St Albans Clock Tower, Hertfordshire

St Albans Clock Tower - Credit: SAHAAS

St Albans Clock Tower, St Albans, September 18-19
In the heart of St Albans you can climb the 93 narrow steps of the spiral stone staircase of the only medieval town belfry in England.

At the top you will be rewarded with magnificent views of St Albans Cathedral, the city and beyond to surrounding countryside.

Listen to the hypnotic, ticking rhythm of the Victorian turret clock - you can see its working mechanism on the second floor.

Meet Gabriel, the 600-year-old great bell on the fourth floor which is still rung every hour on the hour and used to signal the city curfew too.

Try not to stand too close when Gabriel chimes, we have been told it’s very loud.

Youngsters can hunt for the golden keys hidden throughout the Clock Tower, they will be rewarded with a bag of chocolate. 

Verulamium Museum, St Albans, September 11-18
Built on the site of one of the largest Roman cities in Britain, Verulamium Museum is filled with ancient treasures and some of the finest mosaics outside of the Mediterranean.

Here you can immerse yourself in Roman life, explore recreated Roman rooms and see large-scale mosaics.

There are also recent discoveries on display including the Sandridge Hoard, a collection of Roman gold coins.

Younger visitors will enjoy the hands-on discovery areas, activity sheets and dressing up.

After your visit, there are more remains to discover in Verulamium Park.

Outside the museum is a Roman hypocaust (ingenious ancient underground heating),  and if you venture a little further, you can see visit the Roman theatre and city walls too. 

Scott's Grotto, Ware, September 11-12
Explore Scott's Grotto, an 18th century grotto and summerhouse hidden in the unlikely location of a residential road in Ware.

Inside the grotto you will find six interconnected chambers decorated with thousands of shells, flints and pieces of coloured glass and extending 20 metres into a chalk hillside.

Above the grotto, climb to the top of the hill, where you will discover the summerhouse and gardens, which in its day would have commanded a wonderful view over Ware.

The grotto is thought to have cost £10,000 and taken its creator, John Scott, the Quaker poet of Amwell House, 30 years to complete.

It was extensively restored in 1990-91 and is now a Grade I listed site. An enchanting place which all ages will love. 

Southern Maltings, Ware, September 11-12
Malting was a major industry in Ware from the 17th century, taking in barley from Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and turning it into the basis of beer - particularly porter - before sending it on by barge to London. 

The Southern Malting, built in 1838, is now the only Ware malting building in public ownership and the only one with most of its original features still intact.

The building has houses Ware Arts Centre at its eastern end which includes the original fire and kiln rooms and malt stores.

The large central malting floors area and the grain store at the western end of the building were inaccessible until 2016.

Visitors will be given a guided tour of the building and learn how it was used as a malting until the early 1960s plus learn of plans for its future use. 

Herts - Ayot St Peter Church

St Peter's, Ayot St Lawrence - Credit: National Trust

St Peter's church, Ayot St Peter, September 11
An exceptionally complete and preserved example, this Victorian village church was designed by the noted architect John Pollard Seddon in the Arts and Crafts style and completed in 1875.

It has an unusual painted Byzantine apse and features the only church commission undertaken by the Martin Brothers pottery.

There are also contemporary tiles and mosaic work by Jesse Rust and Victorian stained glass windows commemorating Dickens' editor William Henry Wills and his wife Janet Chambers.

The beautiful organ is still played each Sunday. The church is surrounded by peaceful countryside and the evocative churchyard half a mile away has interesting graves.

The church will be decorated with flowers and produce for a harvest festival the following day. Stock up on homemade preserves! 

hertford castle grounds hertfordshire england uk gb.

The Gatehouse at Hertford Castle - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Hertford Castle, Hertford, guided walk (booking required): September 11, heritage day: September 12 
The Rise and Fall of Hertford Castle is a guided walk exploring the site of this fortress founded by William the Conqueror before becoming a favoured royal residence.

Elizabeth I spent part of her childhood here and as queen often stayed. Parliament and the law courts relocated from London to the castle to escape the plague.

Visitors will discover the remains of the impressive castle wall, the preserved gatehouse and find out how the castle shaped the town and fortunes of Hertford. 

The following day the castle is host to a family heritage day with medieval encampments, archery workshops, battle re-enactments, storytelling, tours and falconry displays. 

Watford Palace Theatre, September 18
The Edwardian Grade II listed Watford Palace Theatre opened in 1908 as a music hall and in its early years hosted stars including Gracie Fields and Stan Laurel. 

Since then it has evolved to offer award-winning drama, comedy, musicals and more.

On offer are fascinating tours of the theatre (with extra sneak peaks and theatre secrets revealed) plus arts and crafts activities.

As a bonus, see the beautiful bunting created by the crafty people who took part in Good Will Bunting and The Fabric of Watford projects.

The theatre promises a day of 'fun, facts and fabulousness'. A chance to see behind the scenes and enjoy this lovely theatre once again. 

For more Heritage Open Days visit heritageopendays.org.uk

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