This year marks the 25th anniversary of Heritage Open Days. Coventry was involved in the very first Heritage Open Day in the UK in 1994. The Coventry Society was involved right from the start.
Roger Bailey, a Coventry Blue Badge Guide, and now a City Councillor, recollects those early years.
“I so remember the first event. It involved the then purpose built Tourist Information Centre which has since been demolished. Also Whitefriars, when it was a museum, Drapers Hall, County Hall and Holy Trinity Church. In support was the new Godiva exhibition at The Herbert Art Gallery, plus The Museum of British Road Transport. Various entertainments took place which included music, dance and playlets.
“In the following year, we also had the Hippodrome Theatre open as well as The Old Grammar School and the Canal Basin. In 1996 we were joined by the Toy Museum and the Council House. The Charterhouse joined in 1997.
“Compared to more than 50 sites open this year, there were fewer than ten in those early days. This big change has taken many years to achieve.
“As we head towards City of Culture, it seems to me that it will play a very important part in highlighting what makes our city different from any other and also give us the chance to promote how unique it is and how important it was to the history of England.
“My own contribution will highlight Coventry’s links to an ancient city in Egypt of over 3,000 years ago. I am currently working on this with a leading expert in the history of Egypt, specifically the expert on the city of Amarna, where it seems the original idea of a precinct came from. The professor will shortly publish his thoughts in the next copy of the Amarna twice a year newsletter on the origins of postwar Coventry and other such cities, and he has very generously taken some of my input and given me credit. From this I hope to give one or more lectures, the first to the Coventry Society and also publish a small leaflet. Both dependant on a small amount of finance, which I hope to raise.”
Roger Bailey has for many years chaired the working group that oversees and promotes Heritage Open Days in Coventry.
The Chair of the Coventry Society at the time of the first Heritage Open Day, Irene Shannon, remembers all the hard work that was put into arranging the re-enactment of Mary Ball’s trial at the Old County Hall.
“Children acted as the judges & magistrates and PC Howard from the Police Museum related the story and provided historic costumes. He also showed the death mask of the last woman to be executed in Coventry, Mary Ball, in 1849.
“An estimated 20,000 people watched the Nuneaton housewife’s hanging in Cuckoo Lane. She had confessed to poisoning her husband – although she denied the allegation until her hand was held over a candle during an interrogation.
“The Council did clear the Old County Hall of rubbish and dead pigeons, Mark Singlehurst from the Conservation team produced the information leaflets. Great fun but hard work!
“It would be nice to ask the members or the public who visited that 1st weekend for photos they took. We were all very busy and photographs were not so easily taken back then as they are today. I wonder if the Coventry Telegraph covered it?”
This year’s Heritage Open Days take place over two weekends in September. Starting on Friday 13th September the event runs until Sunday 22nd September. The City Council will be publishing a printed leaflet with all of the venues listed. There will also be full information listed on the Council’s website.
The Coventry Society has been involved in every one of the Heritage Open Days held over the past twenty five years. This year the Society will be back at the Old Grammar School with the Coventry Family History Society.
We will be promoting the Coventry Heritage Trust’s project for the restoration of the Burges with displays and guided tours. We will also be celebrating the Lady Herbert’s Garden and the Burges Conservation Area and the “daylighting” of the River Sherbourne in the city centre. We will be there on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th September from noon – 4 p.m. There will also be guided tours of the Burges scheme on Saturday 14th, Sunday 15th, Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd September at 12 noon, starting from the Old Grammar School.
If you have any photos of the Heritage Open Day in 1994, then please email Karin Aspin at the City Council.