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Festival provides chance to explore Leicester’s hidden heritage

Published on Monday, September 7, 2020

Winstanley House in Braunstone Park

A DOZEN historic sites across Leicester are taking part in this year’s Heritage Open Days, giving people the chance to discover more about the city’s past.

The annual festival, which runs from 10-20 September this year, aims to showcase Leicester’s remarkable history by providing free access to venues that may not usually open to the public.

Although current restrictions mean access to some venues will be limited to an online experience, and some events will require advance booking, there are still several venues that will be open on a drop-in basis, including the magnificent Winstanley House (pictured).

Known as Braunstone Hall until its recent restoration and conversion into a luxury hotel and restaurant, Winstanley House will be welcoming visitors from 11am to 4pm on Friday 11 September, and at the same times from Monday 14 to Friday 18 September.

One of the oldest buildings in Town Hall Square will also be opening its doors to visitors. The Bishop Street Methodist Church, built in 1815, is a familiar landmark in the square – but its stunning interior is less well-known. The church, and its café, will be open from 10am to 3pm on Saturday 12 September.

Anyone with an interest in Georgian architecture will enjoy a visit to the grand ballroom of the Grade I listed City Rooms on Hotel Street. Drop in between 11am and 3pm from Monday 14 – Thursday 17 September.

There’s also a chance to find out more about the Leicester City, County & Rutland At Risk War Memorials Project. From 10-13 September, visitors can see more than 40 different memorials, each rescued from closed churches, chapels, social clubs and factories and saved for the local community. The project is based in the chancel behind All Saints Church on Highcross Street. Opening times are 2pm-5pm on Thursday, 3pm-6pm on Friday, 10am to 6pm on Saturday and 2.30pm-5pm on Sunday (10-13 September). Please note that a maximum of six people can visit at any one time.

Other venues taking part in Heritage Open Days include Leicester’s 18th century Belgrave Hall, the Y Theatre – the city’s oldest surviving theatre – and the fascinating transport shed, home to historic vehicles at Abbey Pumping Station. Guided walks around Western Park and the ruins in Abbey Park have also been arranged. All these events are free of charge, but require advance booking.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some venues will be offering online experiences to mark Heritage Open Days. A backstage tour of De Montfort Hall, creative activities at the LCB Depot and Makers’ Yard, and a talk about the history of Leicester’s trams will all take place online during the festival.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “With so many local and national events having to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m very pleased that our partners have been able to find ways to ensure that this show will go on.

“The festival may be smaller than in previous years, but people will still be able to have fun – and stay safe – while they discover things they didn’t know about their city and its history.

“Heritage Open Days gives us the chance to celebrate our city’s remarkable history, but the event wouldn’t be happening without the hard work of some dedicated volunteers.

“I’d like thank Leicester’s enthusiastic heritage volunteers, who are always happy to share their passion for local history with others – not only during this festival, but all year round.”

Details of how to book your place on tours, and full information and timings for all events, are available in the Heritage Open Days programme

Printed copies are also available from the Visit Leicester centre, which is now located inside the King Richard III Visitor Centre on St Martins.

Please book early to avoid disappointment, as places are limited due to social distancing requirements.

The Heritage Open Days festival is promoted in the city by Leicester City Council in partnership with charities, volunteers and other local organisations.

Information about events taking place around the country as part of the national event is available at www.heritageopendays.org.uk