Take pride in Sheffield’s heritage at free open days

Ron Clayton at Benjamin Huntsman's grave
Ron Clayton at Benjamin Huntsman's grave
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More than 60 of Sheffield’s heritage gems will open to the public this September as some of the city’s unfamiliar stories are told.

The national Heritage Open Days scheme aims to give people the chance to see inside places that are not normally open to the public – for free.

Heritage Open Day at Sheffield City Hall: Tour leader Alice Fitzpatrick in the ballroom

Heritage Open Day at Sheffield City Hall: Tour leader Alice Fitzpatrick in the ballroom

This year the event will take place from September 8 to 11, and thanks to the efforts of Sheffield Civic Trust, more venues will be involved than ever.

Key organisers Liz Godfrey and Louise White believe it is about having pride in Sheffield.

“It’s a way of getting to know your city properly and of making you really proud of what we have got,” said Liz.

The civic trust took on the co-ordination of Sheffield’s Heritage Open Days four years ago.

It’s a way of getting to know your city properly and of making you really proud of what we have got

Liz Godfrey

Liz said: “There was no city-wide organisation for it. A lot of towns and cities do their own thing, with individual venues open because they fancy it. But we thought it would be better to have it all co-ordinated.”

A small but enthusiastic group sat down and made a list of those venues or groups who already took part, and a list of those they would like to see involved. They started contacting people on their wish list and the event grew from there.

“It’s up to us to talk them into it,” Liz said. “It’s been great fun. We have met all sorts of interesting people.”

From 19 venues in 2012 to a target of 70 this year, the event has grown in popularity since the Civic Trust got involved. Not all venues take part every year, so there is always something different for people to visit and enjoy.

The National Emergency Services Museum will host a 9/11 exhibition for Heritage Open Days. Education co-ordinator Clara Taylor.

The National Emergency Services Museum will host a 9/11 exhibition for Heritage Open Days. Education co-ordinator Clara Taylor.

“Most of them are small places run by volunteers,” said Liz. “They go on holiday or have to look after the grandchildren, so each year we spring up some new ones.”

The beauty of the open days, according to Liz, is they feature places that are not normally open to the public. So even the biggest heritage enthusiast may discover something they have never seen before.

“Whereas things like the Town Hall and the Cathedral are always open, this is putting on things that aren’t normally seen,” said Liz. “So the Cathedral will open Chapter House, for example.”

This year, people will be able to visit Hill Top Chapel in Attercliffe Common, built in 1629 by English Puritans. It is the final resting place of Benjamin Huntsman, the man who invented crucible steel.

Electric Works could be a more modern addition to Heritage Open Days.

Electric Works could be a more modern addition to Heritage Open Days.

“The graveyard is full of interesting people,” said Liz.

Meanwhile those with an interest in architecture will be able to take a guided tour around Sheffield Hallam University’s Collegiate Crescent campus. And some of the city’s few remaining bell towers will co-ordinate for a joint bell ringing performance.

“It’s not just buildings because heritage is music, arts, people – all that sort of thing,” said Liz.

“One of our long-standing ambitions, for example, is putting on a folk evening.

“And it’s not just old buildings. We don’t think heritage means old. It’s what we cherish in the community.

“Places like the Electric Works and Park Hill Flats could be involved. Next year we might go into the Little Kelham development.

“That’s the sort of thing we are looking out for.”

The trust’s co-ordinated approach fits nicely with the increased focus on a city-wide heritage strategy, championed by the Joined Up Heritage Group. This brings together the many and varied heritage groups all over Sheffield, with the aim of developing a strategy to uncover, preserve and promote, and use the past to inspire the future.

Liz said: “We all look after our own little area because that’s what we all know about and cherish. Up to now there has been no encouragement from the council, although that is changing. The new heritage champion, Ian Saunders, is much more hands on.

“We haven’t had the motivation or the wherewithal to get together and do it before.

“We can make huge economic progress for Sheffield without even having to promote it outside the city.”

She added: “We are the only Sheffield-wide heritage event that exists. That’s why Heritage Open Days are so important.”

Groups can still register to open their venue or hold an event for this year’s Heritage Open Days in Sheffield. E-mail hods@sheffieldcivictrust.org.uk or visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk. A full list of participating venues will be published at www.facebook.com/sheffieldheritageopendays.

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