Be a tourist in your own area for free during the forthcoming Heritage Open Days events, which are taking place in and around Tunbridge Wells from September 8-17. Eileen Leahy caught up with the local event’s co-organiser Caroline Auckland to discover the wonderful historic and cultural gems we can discover for free next month…
Heritage Open Days is an England-wide event, which celebrates our country’s architectural, social and cultural legacy by offering visitors of all ages free access to a range of events that include interesting properties, guided walks, tours and talks.
It has been running for well over 30 years nationally and in Tunbridge Wells since the mid-1990s. This year the popular event runs from September 8-17 and once again there is much to enjoy.
“In addition to the historical aspect, there are also art, craft and music events, as well as displays of traditional skills,” explains Caroline Auckland, who is co-organising the local Tunbridge Wells event, which is supported by the Civic Society, the National Trust and the People’s Postcode Lottery.
“Volunteers also make this event happen, researching and promoting all the events and sharing the fabulous resources and venues we have in our community,” continues Caroline.
For 2023, there are 15 events registered for the Borough of Tunbridge Wells, with some of them being repeated over a few days during the festival.
“The Heritage Open Days area stretches from Southborough and Tunbridge Wells out to Paddock Wood and the surrounding areas, including Capel and Horsmonden, so it is quite wide and varied,” explains Caroline.
New for this year, local historian Fiona Woodfield will lead a bookable guided linear walk on a level route starting at Mount Ephraim House on Friday September 8 from 10.30-12pm.
Over the first weekend, Tunbridge Wells Quaker Meeting House in Grosvenor Park will be open for a display on Saturday September 9 from 10am-6pm. On the same day Paddock Wood Masonic Hall will throw open its doors from 10am-4pm, offering a visual display of life as a hop picker. It will also be open on other dates throughout the festival, so it’s best to check the Heritage Open Days official website for details.
“Also on that Saturday, the Friends of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery will celebrate the creativity of artists, writers, musicians, dancers and singers linked to the cemetery between 2.30pm-4.30pm,” adds Caroline.
“The following weekend, St Barnabas School will be open on Saturday September 16 from 10am-3pm with tours every 30 minutes and a display of old school albums. This is happening at the same time as the school’s Late Summer Fair, so there will be an opportunity for visitors to browse and buy from stalls, too.”
Caroline reveals that on the following day, there will be a walk around the Victorian Mortuary Garden, which is organised by the Friends of Woodbury Park Cemetery. The guided tour will be at 11am on Sunday September 17 and no booking is required.
“The very popular archaeological experience that is Georgian and Victorian Corn Milling in Southborough Valley is once again being offered by Southborough Archaeological Society with tours of the excavation site on Sunday September 10 and 17,” she says.
“The St Thomas à Becket Church in Capel, will be offering an art and craft show, with works being made by local people over the two weekends that the cultural celebration takes place. These will be held inside this stunning medieval church. Outside of the church visitors will have the chance to see the ancient yew tree where Thomas à Becket is believed to have preached.”
Caroline also tells the Times that there will also be another opportunity to take the Elevated Decimus Burton Walking Tour around the Mount Pleasant area of Tunbridge Wells with tour guide David Woosnam.
“People will also be able to visit Salomons Estate for a talk in the museum looking back at the three generations of the Salomons family,” she adds.
“Eridge Park Estate will also be opening its archives by appointment and the National Trust’s Scotney Castle is holding a heritage and harvest country fair with displays, activities, stalls and tastings suitable for all the family over the family over the first weekend.”
Caroline goes on to say that this year’s Heritage Open Days theme is ‘Creativity Unwrapped’ and that there are a few new events which fit in perfectly with this theme.
“One of them is Exits & Entrances. It is a look at the history of theatre in Tunbridge Wells over the last few centuries. This is being held in Decimus Burton’s Trinity Theatre and the sessions will be led by local historian Dr Chris Jones.”
There will be other events further afield, including walks around the National Trust’s stunning Emmetts Garden (pictured above) and also Mote Park in Maidstone.
These Heritage Open Days offer an opportunity for visitors to experience the unique character of the buildings, as well as examine pictures and historic records of places of interest in our town Caroline says.
“Every single Heritage Open Days event is free, including access to many sites that usually charge for admission, we are very excited Scotney Castle as it is offering a day of fantastic family fun on Friday September 8.”
“Thank you to all of the volunteers. We love the dedication and enthusiasm they devote each year to this festival and the team here in Tunbridge Wells always look forward to finding out something new about this great place we are fortunate to live in, explore and showcase.”