The other week I was asked by the national team why I think festivals like Heritage Open Days are important. The following are extracts from what I said;
When Loyd Grossman was interviewed at the Guildhall last year he told us, “You can’t love and protect something unless you know about it”. Wise words indeed.
How often do we walk down a street or enter a building and either don’t have the time, or fail to notice the little details that could enlighten our day? That inscription on the wall perhaps, a beautiful stained glass window, an interesting street name or that unassuming building that appears empty and run down.
Heritage Open Days gives us all the opportunity to pause for a moment, to reflect on our past, to learn something new and to hopefully inspire us all to care for the amazing heritage that this country has to offer and which is sometimes forgotten or neglected or is even under threat.
Becky and I often chat about what heritage is, and in fact it was a topic which also came up last year when I was chatting to the Hampshire Chronicle.
It is not just about buildings but also about everyday objects and traditions that we take for granted without so much as a second thought. For instance, when we read our morning newspaper over a cup of tea and a piece of toast do we ever stop to consider where any of these all started?
Modern technology is now commonplace and, for the most part, has improved the way we lead our lives, but even that is developing so fast that today’s technology will be seen as tomorrow’s heritage.
Heritage Open Days (HODs) is a wonderful way to explore our past, to find out where things come from, who designed them, why they were made, the skills and processes involved, and so on. Its flexibility allows us the freedom to explore any part of our heritage that we want to so it doesn’t need to be dull or boring.
One of the reasons I got involved with Heritage Open Days is because there is something for everyone in this festival.
I also love how HODs is a festival for all ages. It stretches across all generations but links us together with what we share in common. Young can learn from old and vice versa. HODs really do open minds and open eyes.
I also know how important it is to share our knowledge of history with the next generation and so this year’s theme “All Our Stories” particularly resonates with me. Sadly my parents are no longer around but, as I get older, I really regret not sitting down with them and recording some of their stories. Unless we continue to tell those stories our children will miss out on truly knowing what makes them who they are today. We learn history at school but unless that history is brought to life it can remain just words and dates in a text book. That’s why HODs are so brilliant. They encourage us to explore our past, to ask questions, to look more closely. This year, for our local website, we decided we wanted to feature interviews with some of the organisers and local people of Winchester, asking them what they remember about the city and why heritage is so important to them. We are really only just at the start of this project but I am sure it will go on to prove to be a fascinating journey of discovery.
But the main reasons HODs are so important to me is that, by allowing free access to buildings and events, the festival is accessible to the whole community. Winchester plays host to a fair number of festivals throughout the year but hardly any of them, apart from the Hat Fair, are free. This means a large number of residents miss out and so HODs are an excellent way of connecting with them.
Nicky Gottlieb, lead organiser, Winchester Heritage Open Days
PS The photographs I’ve included in this post are some of my favourite shots from last year’s Heritage Open Days and this year’s launch event! I have explained below why I love them so, but before you read that I must mention that we’re running a photography competition this year to find an image for the front cover of our 2018 programme. We’re asking visitors to take a photo of any Winchester HODs event or heritage site – more details can be found here.
- I do have a soft spot for our first ever programme cover. This shows the two doors to the west entrance of Winchester Cathedral – a lovely rich red with heavy circular iron handles and studs framed by beautiful stone arches and vaulted canopy. It’s a shot that most Wintonians will instantly recognise but was taken by my lovely volunteer photographer, Mike Hall. This year he’s taken an equally fabulous shot of one of the stained glass windows in the Barter Memorial Chapel designed by William Butterfield and he will be going round to capture pictures of many of the events again this year.
- I also love our Winchester HODs launch photo this year – a really happy photo taken by my other amazing volunteer Becky. Captured under Kingsgate Arch it represents a few of the organisers and volunteers who put so much in to the festival, who never complain and are always a joy to work with.
- Then there’s a shot I took of a young couple visiting the Great Hall last year. They were having so much fun trying on some of the costumes and the image just tickled me. I think it just sums up the spirit of HODs and shows that heritage doesn’t have to be serious all the time but that you can still discover new things and learn about history in all sorts of ways.
- I also lament the fact that St John’s House is closed this year and so you can’t get in to see the extraordinary Georgian ballroom on the first floor with its stucco plasterwork on the walls. So many visitors told us that it was the first time they had visited the building or that they never knew it was there, which is why I had to use it as my header photograph. Last year the Hampshire Regency Dancers performed several dances in front of an audience – such a shame we can’t repeat it again in this special Jane Austen year (photo by Chris Lacey). And I have to include the Treasure Your Treasures frame taken there too. It was the day before HODs and I remember everyone was rushing around trying to get all the preparations finished in time. Louisa was worried her hat didn’t match her outfit and Joe was strutting around in his costume looking quite pleased with himself. They were such good sports and really lovely people to work with. Mike Hall took this wonderful shot of them both which I think captures the moment. I nearly included the one of Joe taking a selfie of himself in costume – it’s hilarious, but I’ll spare him the embarrassment! (photo by Mike Hall).
- Abbey House – Mayor of Winchester (Winchester has the second oldest mayoralty outside London). Mayors lead incredibly busy lives and have to attend sometimes three or four events a day throughout the year. Our Mayor last year was just amazing. She had boundless energy, never complained and was up for anything – she even did a wing walk for charity earlier this year! (the photo I’ve included was by Chris Lacey)
And how could I leave out a special visit from our HODs Patron Loyd Grossman himself! He came down on the eve of the festival to give an interview in the Guildhall but prior to that we took in a whistle-stop tour of some of the venues hosting events including Serle’s House, the Great Hall and the Military Museums at Peninsula Barracks. The one I’ve included in this post was taken at the Great Hall and captured the “Let’s open the doors” headline for the HODs press release that night. (photo by Mike Hall)