Hampshire locations to visit for Heritage Open Days 2018

PUBLISHED: 15:04 28 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:53 28 August 2018

Calshot Castle was built by Henry VIII (credit, Calshot Activities Centre)

Calshot Castle was built by Henry VIII (credit, Calshot Activities Centre)

Calshot Activities Centre

From Austen’s treasures to castles built by Henry VIII, Heritage Open Days (6-9 and 13-16 September 2018) allow you to step behind the doors of some of the county’s most iconic but hidden premises.

Over 200 years after her death, the novels of Jane Austen are still as popular as ever. Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion are just some of her most famous works, written and revised in the picturesque village of Chawton.

Now run as the Jane Austen’s House Museum, today her former home houses a collection of the most significant objects from her life, including letters, jewellery, personal effects and even rare first edition books. This September, the public are invited to get up close and personal with these items on an exclusive talk about Jane Austen’s Treasures. Literary fans will find out what they reveal about her life, and the influences on her writing, and learn more about the ongoing conservation work to preserve them.

This one-day-only opportunity is taking place as part of the Heritage Open Days festival. To mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act, a series of free special events across Hampshire will be celebrating ‘Extraordinary Women’, like Jane Austen, alongside other walks, talks and open doors about the area’s history.

Here are just some of the county’s hidden gems to discover during the festival.


Worting Business Park, Basingstoke, Thursday 6 (10am - 12pm)

Unlike Elizabeth Bennet, Austen never found her Mr Darcy, calling off her brief engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither the day after the proposal. Bigg-Wither’s grand estate, Worting House, will be open during the festival, and with Palladian windows and sweeping lawns is much in contrast to Jane’s own more humble home. Currently run as an office complex, visitors can tour the building, see the coach house and explore the beautiful grounds overlooking the countryside beyond.


Women on the Railways Exhibition: Alresford, Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 (10.30am - 4.30pm) | Talk: Winchester, Friday 14 (2.30pm)

While Jane Austen is widely celebrated, other remarkable women who have made a difference to their local community are not as visible. Many events during the festival are hoping to change that, including a specially curated exhibition of ‘Women on the Railways’ at the Mid Hampshire Railway. Alongside a behind-the-scenes tour of the restoration and engineering hub, the display will showcase the mainly female workforce which built the flagship steam locomotive, and their critical wartime contributions in the railway workshops and operations. An exclusive talk by Dr Becky Peacock, an expert in historical tourism, will also let participants dig deeper into the role of women on the railways across the mid-19th to 20th century.


Calshot Castle, Southampton, Friday 7 and Saturday 8 (10.30am - 4.30pm)

With hundreds of historic buildings taking part, the festival will leave architecture enthusiasts spoilt for choice. Originally built by Henry VIII, Calshot Castle is an impressive coastal fort which, unusually, remained in commission through to the 20th century when it became one of the first seaplane bases for the Royal Navy. Visitors on the open day will have free access to the rotunda and can make a day of it with a sea-view picnic.


Winchester Cathedral’s Inner Close, Winchester, Thursday 13 and Friday 14 (6pm)

Led by leading classical architect, George Saumarez Smith, an exclusive tour of Winchester Cathedral’s Inner Close is set to be another popular event. Exploring this area in the heart of the city, participants will learn about its evolution from the earliest days of the Cathedral to the present day. Amidst the religious buildings, the tour will focus on the domestic architecture of the canons’ houses, and give expert insight into one of the most photographed timber-framed buildings in the city, Cheyney Court.


The Hospital of St Cross & Almshouse of Noble Poverty, Winchester, Thursday 13 (9.30am - 5pm)

In continued residential use since the 12th century, The Hospital of St Cross & Almshouse of Noble Poverty is another amazing building to discover. The original meaning of the word ‘hospital’, as ‘hospitality’ or ‘guest’, is still in effect here, with the Wayfarer’s Dole - originally a horn of beer and a morsel of bread – available to any traveller who requests it at the Porter’s Lodge. On the open day, visitors can take part in this ancient tradition, as well as exploring the medieval hall, old kitchen and tranquil water meadow gardens.


Haslar Peninsular WalkAbout, Gosport, Sunday 9 (10am)

Stunning waterside views can also be admired in Gosport on the Haslar Peninsular WalkAbout. A local guide will accompany visitors around this designated Conservation Area, discussing the local landmarks and the area’s military role as home to HMS Hornet during the Second World War. The circular walk of just over two miles will give visitors plenty of time to learn about the area, while admiring the beautiful scenery. Perfect for photographers, hikers, and historians alike, places on the three-hour tour are limited, so early registration is essential.


Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, Saturday 8 (11am - 4pm)

The final site in our top picks is sure to pique the interest of anyone keen on art, or just curious about what lies behind Sandham’s municipal exterior. Nicknamed a ‘holy box’ by artist Stanley Spencer, the chapel was built to display epic murals portraying his personal, everyday experiences as a medic during the First World War. Powerful in scale, his unique paintings are undoubtedly a hidden festival highlight.

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