Fantasmagorical history

Historic venues across the country are opening their doors to the public next month

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Heritage Open Days – England’s biggest celebration of history and culture – return next month.

Since 1994 the annual event has been part of a co-ordinated festival across Europe, offering people the chance to appreciate historic buildings and monuments in their community and connect with their culture and heritage.

The theme for this year’s open days will be Astounding Inventions, celebrating Britain’s spirit of innovation in science and engineering as the birthplace of the train, penicillin and great inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell.

“We’re thrilled to be focusing on inventions for this year’s festival, as they offer such an exciting lens for examining heritage,” Liam Montgomery, Heritage Open Days marketing and projects manager, says. “From the humble chocolate bar to the World Wide Web, England has an incredibly diverse history of innovation and discovery.”

Starting with just 701 events in its first year, Heritage Open Days has continued to grow, and this year will host over 5,500 events. By typing in a postcode on visitors can locate events on their doorstep and there are endless options in the North.

As part of the festival, Leeds’s Merrion Centre will be returning to its visitors a fantastical vision of the future from the 1960s. Six of the machines created by cartoonist Roland Emmet will be on display.

“The history of the machines and the Merrion Centre goes back a long way,” says James Broughton, head of marketing and communications for the shopping centre. “A lot of people around the city have got very fond memories of the Emmet machines when they were originally in the Merrion Centre in the 1960s. Not only are we introducing a new audience to the machines, we’re also giving a nod to the history of the centre and those people who remember it.”

Some of Emmet’s machines were used in the film Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and were key to its visual design. “Even back in the 1960s the tagline was the fantasmagorical machines,” says Broughton. “The Emmet machines were perceived as being very futuristic.”

In Greater Manchester on 16-17 September the Mossley Heritage Centre will be offering additional activities. Nestled in a corner of Longlands Mill the heritage centre is run by a small voluntary group and hosts an exhibition of artifacts tracking the advancements in technology that improved the efficiency of mills through the decades.

The centre is built around a giant bale machine and includes displays of items including flying shuttles, knotters and carding machines. A heritage centre provides the historical context and for the Heritage Open Days will have a little loom for visitors to try their hand at making a line of material. The centre also has a small kitchen and Mossley Civic Society secretary Dyllis Wolinski says that children are often fascinated by its typewriter and record player.

Mossley Heritage Centre’s open day coincides with the 30th anniversary of homelessness charity Emmaus’s use of the mill. A celebration will be held for the anniversary and organisers anticipate a carnival atmosphere with lots going on. Members of the heritage centre will be dressing up in mill clothes and suffragette outfits.

On 17 September St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool, will also be offering guided and self-guided tours. The church is the site where John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met in 1957 at a performance by Lennon’s band The Quarrymen and is home to the graves of Eleanor Rigby – believed to be the subconscious inspiration for the song Paul McCartney would write in later years – and football legend Bob Paisley.


Photo: Cartoonist Roland Emmet’s fantastical machines from the 1960s, some used in the film Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, will be on display in Leeds

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