In early September, some of Newcastle’s most important and remarkable places and spaces will throw open their doors as part of Heritage Open Days, a Europe-wide celebration of history and culture.
Growing out of a 1991 European Commission initiative to champion Europe’s rich culture, history and assets through community engagement and intercultural exchange, the first English incarnation of Heritage Open Days event took place back in 1994, when around 700 events took place.
This year more than 5,000 events will happen from September 8th to 17th, all free and open to everyone, involving organisations and volunteers from all walks of life (public, private and voluntary). And Newcastle – a city with a rich and highly visible history – has lots of Heritage Open Day events for you to enjoy.
Everywhere you look in the city centre, history is staring you in the face and Heritage Open Days help bring it to life.
Take Blackfriars, now one of the city’s best-loved restaurants but formerly a 13th century Dominican friary. On Friday 8th and 15th, you can join a guided walk through the buildings and learn all about its former life.
On September 16th you can join historian David Faulkner at the City Library for an illustrated talk about the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition, a massive event on Town Moor which attracted four million viewers and is now commemorated by the sole remaining ‘palace' which is now home to Wylam Brewery.
On September 14th and 15th, take a tour of High Bridge Works, now home to Newcastle Contemporary Art gallery and a number of studios, but at the centre of Newcastle’s industrial life since 1767. The building has housed all sorts of engineering and innovative companies in the last 250 years and this tour – and the accompanying display which will be in place for the whole Heritage Open Days season – will demonstrate what a significant place this site has in the region’s history.
And on September 9th, 11th and 15th, there’s a Behind the Books Tour at the Lit & Phil, the 230-year-old independent library that’s been at the centre of the city’s cultural life for as long as it's been around. Volunteer guides will take you behind the scenes and talk you through some of the many significant events that the glorious building has hosted.
If you like to take in your history as part of a good walk, there are three city centre events that might appeal during Heritage Open Days 2023.
The Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinny tour on September 14th offers a walk around some of the locations involved in Newcastle’s music hall era, and the stories of the songs that were sung in pubs and concert halls in the 19th century celebrating life in the city.
Alternatively, head to Leazes Park on September 10th or 13th for a guided heritage walk around this 150 year old park, which will introduce you to the history of the buildings and features in and around this much-loved space.
Finally, the Dickensian Newcastle walking tour on September 16th takes us around the streets of what in Dickens’ era was still just a town, and a place of great change.
Newcastle is blessed with some remarkable architecture from all across its history, and Heritage Open Days are a perfect time to learn more.
For starters, the Farrell Centre – found within the Claremont Buildings on Newcastle University's campus – offers a number of chances both to appreciate this Grade II listed building and learn more about its mission.
Newcastle Civic Centre plays a vital role in the city, of course, and its buildings are suitably noteworthy. On September 8th, you could join a guided tour of this most remarkable complex that will take you through the Banqueting Hall, the council and committee chambers and the gardens around the building
Heritage Open Days offers a number of chances to tour the wonderful Grainger Market, learning about its history and architecture, particularly its Grade 1 listed arcade.
Or on September 9th, you could visit one of the city’s less appreciated gems, 55 Westgate Road, which has its origins in the Roman era but has also served as a centre for civic affairs and for artistic endeavours and is waiting to be fully restored.
Bessie Surtees House is notable for its magnificent Jacobean frontage and much of the house, including private rooms, will be opened for a day of guided tours on September 1th.
On September 9th and 14th, Trinity House will host a series of tours of this landmark building, found on its Broad Chare site for some 500 years and home to a vast array of history, of a mostly nautical bent.
Innovators & Industrial Icons
To some extent, the history of Newcastle is the history of industry and innovation, the city playing such a significant role in the nation’s industrial heritage.
On September 13th, The Common Room is celebrating the 250th birthday of ‘King of the Coal Trade’ John Buddle by opening up their archive of documents, diaries and personal papers, part of their large collection documenting the history of mining engineering and the nation’s coal heritage.
Buddle is also the subject of a guided walk around The Common Room and Lit & Phil hosted by Newcastle City Guides, also on September 13th, and a ‘Great Lives’ talk the following day by David Kidd, also at The Common Room, that both consider his life and storied career.
Another significant career being marked is that of architect Sir Terry Farrell, whose archive is being made available in an exhibition at Farrell Centre on September 15th.
Churches & Cathedrals
Finally, a couple of notable city centre religious buildings are the subject of tours or showcases during this year's Heritage Open Days.
Newcastle Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks in the city and a number of tours on September 14th and 17th will consider both the magnificent church’s history and its current role in the life of the city.
All Saints Church is even older, a church present on its Pilgrim Street site since the 12th century and its current form built in the late 18th century. Guided tours on September 14th and 15th will lay out its history but also its recent restoration.
If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind a remarkable frontage in the city, or wanted to know more about Newcastle city centre churches or landmarks, Heritage Open Days are a fantastic chance to really immerse yourself in their history. With events spread across the ten days of the festival, there’s plenty of time to take full advantage too.
All the events are free but many require booking in advance. Please check the individual web pages for details.