Stuart Orme: Exploring those hidden places . . .
Whether we admit it or not, we all like to be a little bit nosey. We all have a curiosity about buildings we haven't been into, or sometimes wonder what goes on behind the scenes in those places that are more familiar.
One opportunity to fulfil this urge is with an annual scheme called Heritage Open Days. Every September thousands of free events are held across the UK to celebrate our fantastic history, architecture and public buildings, providing a chance to see inside spaces not normally open to the public. This year Heritage Open Days are from Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th September.
There are over 20 such events in Peterborough, including behind the scenes tours at familiar buildings such as the Museum or the Key Theatre, to tours around historic buildings that aren’t normally publicly open, such as the Customs House and RAF Westwood Officer’s Mess. More modern public buildings, such as the Town Hall, Thomas Deacon Academy and the Energy Recovery Centre on Fengate are also offering tours.
Peterborough Cathedral is no exception, opening up buildings around the Precincts not normally open to view. Amongst some of these extraordinary spaces is the Cathedral Library, above the Gothic porch at the Cathedral’s West Front, and the King’s Lodging above the gatehouse, with its medieval prison. There will be rare access to the 15th century Table Hall, once part of the abbey’s Infirmary, and Almoner’s Hall, from which charity was distributed to the medieval residents of Peterborough.
There’s hands-on activities too, including fun family crafts in the Deanery Garden and storytelling on Tout Hill, the remains of Peterborough’s castle. Our medieval past will be brought vividly to life with knights in armour on the green outside the Cathedral, giving talks and demonstrations illustrating life in the Middle Ages.
One of the highlights of the weekend will be the official opening of the Cathedral’s new Visitor and Learning Centre, after two years of careful conservation and the installation of some exciting new displays. The Centre is part of a wider project to improve access to the Cathedral and its history, supported by a £2.4 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Already a few school groups have tested out the newly equipped classrooms that form the Learning Centre on the top floor, but this will be the first time that the general public has had the chance to see inside the building.
The Centre, which is free of charge to enter, will enable visitors to discover more about the history and purpose of the Cathedral. It also includes an exhibition space for temporary exhibitions, and meeting rooms which can be hired by external organisations. These include the stunning 13th century Knights’ Chamber, which will be open to view over the weekend.
If you want to explore some of these hidden spaces (and why wouldn’t you?) you can find out more at the Heritage Open Days website at www.heritageopendays.org.uk. For more information on the Cathedral’s events, visit www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk.
Go on, be nosey!