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Cobham Mill

Top 10 Open House days near you

Every September, Heritage Open Days and Open House London fling open the doors of some hidden historical gems, with the aim of making local architecture accessible to all. We look at some of the most fascinating places near you.

By Oonagh Turner

1 Tara Theatre

This beloved arts house will be opening its doors for visitors to explore this September. The theatre opened back in 2016, offering 100 plush seats surrounding a stage where plays and theatrical performances take place, and the space was founded on ideals of multiculturalism and inclusion, after the racially motivated murder of a Sikh teen in Southall.

2 Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: Tropical Nursery

The beautiful Victorian greenhouses at Kew are bursting with exotic flora and fauna alien to British soil, but to treat the plants with the upmost care, Kew is also home to a lesser known tropical nursery where plants from various tropical habitats are safeguarded for educational, conservation and scientific purposes. Divided into climatic zones, the nursery contains over 40,000 plants, and will be open to budding scientists and keen gardeners over the course of Open House London.

22-23 September; www.openhouselondon.org.uk

3 Battersea Arts Centre

This beautiful Victorian building sits atop Lavender Hill will be opening its doors for visitors to explore the venue, have a sneak peek at the recently refurbished grand hall which was ravaged by fire back in 2015, and enjoy intimate volunteer-led tours uncovering the site’s rich history. The space puts on everything from arts events to exhibitions to music evenings and drama performances and has been a pillar of the local community since its opening back in the late 19th century.

6-16 September; www.heritageopendays.org.uk

Battersea Arts Centre

4 St Leonards Court Air Raid Shelter, East Sheen

St Leonards Court Air Raid Shelter in Mortlake will be opening its doors to the public for the first time as part of Open House London. The shelter was built on the eve of World War Two, and was a communal space intended to serve 70 residents in the event of an air raid. The shelter’s entrance is a circular brick building which leads down into the depths where visitors can discover many of the original wooden benches, shelves and paintwork features taking you back to the dark days of the 1940s home front.

22-23 September; www.openhouselondon.org.uk

5 Kingston Medieval Bridge and Undercroft

Unbeknown to many Kingston’s residents, down by the town’s riverside lies the remains of Kingston’s medieval bridge and the crypt of an ancient church. The 12th century crypt and remains of the timber bridge were uncovered in the 1980s and moved to the safety of the John Lewis basement after extensive work. The bridge is a significant piece of engineering as it was the only bridge crossing the Thames until one was built in Fulham in 1729, and the crypt is a fascinating example of ancient architecture withstanding the test of time underground. One for budding historians and architecture buffs.

8-9 September; www.heritageopendays.org.uk

6 Cleaves Almshouses

Almshouses are beautiful architectural relics of an historical social system whereby charitable housing was provided to poorer members of society. One such example of charitable housing is the houses built in 1668 by Aldernman William Cleave. The charming row looks straight out of a bucolic English setting and will be open for visitors to snoop around on the first weekend of September.

8-9 September; www.heritageopendays.org.uk

7 Bushy House

Built in a classically 18th century style, Bushy House is a Grade II listed building and the former resident of William IV and his former queen consort, Adelaide. Now, the house continues to overlook leafy Bushy Park and houses the National Physical Laboratory, with scientific labs, and an extensive collection of scientific equipment. The building is opening its doors for the public to discover its history and modern use this September.

22-23 September; www.openhouselondon.org.uk

8 Reigate Fort 

This fascinating fort dates back to the 19th century when Britain felt threatened by the prospect of France invading, and so devised a network of earthwork fortifications along the south-east of the country. Reigate Fort is one such structure owned by the National Trust and made up of dark twisting tunnels desgined to play a big part in the nation’s military defence. Step back in time and discover the concrete voids of the fort for yourself this September.

16 September; www.heritageopendays.org.uk

9 Cecil Hepworth Playhouse Theatre

The pioneering British film director, producer and screenwriter, Cecil Hepworth, who was among the founders of the British film industry, built this humble film studio in Walton-on-Thames, the first studios in Britain, but its significance for what this residency meant for British popular culture has largely gone uncovered. During the open house, you can enjoy a backstage tour of the fascinating studios, and watch classic films made by the studios.

8 September; www.heritageopendays.org.uk

10 Cobham Mill Open Day

Discover Surrey’s only working water mill and feel at one with nature on the picturesque surrounds of the River Mole, with views of verdant green farmland and dreamy weirs. On the open day, local grain will be milled and guides available to answer any questions and take you through the ancient process. The Saturday also marks Cobham village day, with plenty of family fun activities on offer, from foodie stands, to the annual duck race.

8-9 September; www.heritageopendays.org.uk