THERE’S no such thing as a free lunch, they say.
But you can enjoy a fat slice of history for free with Heritage Open Days, which launch on September 6.
For four days, buildings of every age, style and function that would normally be closed to the public or charge for entry throw open their doors for free.
It is a once-a-year chance to discover hidden treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities that bring history and culture to life.
Founded in 1994, Heritage Open Days now attract more than one million visitors, with more than 1,400 organisations and some volunteers organisingthousands of site openings and events.
Starting out with 700 sites, Heritage Open Days has since developed into Britain’s largest and most popular grassroots heritage event.
Tyne and Wear has been taking part now for a decade and last year involved 211 properties, tours and events which generated a record 52,759 visits, reaching the number one spot in the list of top five organisers.
This year 342 venues across the region are joining in, with more than 60 in the Sunderland area and 44 in County Durham.
These range from a beer-tasting tour at the Darwin Brewery in Sunderland Enterprise Park to a tour of the first German churches in the country, found in Hudson Road, Hendon.
There’s a chance to take a guided tour of grand monuments like Grade 1-listed Durham Castle, to simpler structures, such as the Tithe Barn, a rare group of medieval farm buildings, also in Durham City.
More unusual attractions include a rare opportunity to take a peek into the Mayor’s parlour in Sunderland, a tour of Liebherr Sunderland Works – one of the last remaining heavy engineering sites in the city and the Waddington Street Centre, an innovative mental health resource centre and the Kepier Hospital, a medieval hospital building, both in Durham.
As well as admiring historical buildings, Heritage Open Days also gives people the chance to go back in time with a series of talks.
Historian Michael Bute will be giving two illustrated talks on Sunderland’s eccentric Baron Henry Hilton.
He said: “History has tended to brand Henry Hilton as a mad man because of a surreptitiously procured will that he made.
“However when his lifetime is judged overall there appears to be a lot of method in his so-called madness.
The author will explore the life and times of the Mad Baron to reveal a totally different picture to the one traditionally painted.
He said: “By linking his family ties with literary and non-literary texts they can be juxtaposed in such a way to indicate how Henry actually lived his life.
“Hilton’s relatives had been involved in the Rising of the North and the Gunpowder Plot and towards the end of Henry’s life a Civil War was looming.
“Against this backdrop was the great migration to the New World. The talk shows the effect all of these events had on the Mad Baron, besides the skullduggery of others trying to lay claim to his estates.”
The free talks will take place on Thursday, September 6, from 1.30pm-3pm, at Sunderland City Library and Saturday, September 8, from 2pm-4pm, at Sunderland North Family Zone, Cranleigh Road, Hylton Castle.
l To find out more about Heritage Open Days, visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk or www.twhods.org.uk.