Free fun with Norfolk Heritage Open Days!

10 August 2023

Free, fascinating fun this September with Norfolk Heritage Open Days!

Guest blog by Norfolk Heritage Open Days

That wonderful time of year is approaching… no, not that one… the one where you can sneak into fascinating places not usually open to the public, discover new stories sure to charm your friends & family, and have unique experiences – plus, it’s all free! Too good to be true? No, it’s just the national annual festival of Heritage Open Days, taking place from Friday, September 8 – Sunday, September 17.

And we’re incredibly lucky because Norfolk’s programme is the biggest in the whole country! It’s not surprising really, with such brilliant history, heritage, and stories around every nook and cranny in our beautiful county. It’s the hundreds of volunteers and organisers throughout the county who make Norfolk Heritage Open Days possible, opening their doors and dedicating their time to welcoming visitors.

With almost 300 events registered for this year’s 10-day festival it’s hard to pick what to highlight, but we’ve given it a go with a quick round up of Norwich based events and sights to see.

Remember – there’s plenty more events taking place across Norfolk – visit to find out more.

Thorns DIY Paintings

Drop-in. Every day of the festival! Friday, September 8 – Sunday, September 17, 9am – 5.30pm, (Sundays – 10am – 4pm).

If you didn’t already know, Thorns is an award-winning, independent and family run DIY store which has been trading in Norwich, Norfolk since 1835 – we couldn’t imagine the Lanes without it!

In the 1950s, while removing some old shelving units, the staff at Thorns discovered mysterious paintings in the Tool department, which were then covered up again to protect them. In 2013 when the Tool department was moved upstairs, the paintings, that are believed to date back to the 18th Century, were rediscovered and now Thorns are unveiling them for HODs visitors to enjoy.

A vibrant red DIY store sits on the corner of a cobbled road

See some fascinating art while starting your next at-home project! Credit: Thorns DIY

It’s their first year taking part in HODs and we’re so thrilled they are, so make sure you go and support them, while exploring this iconic place and viewing quirky paintings! You might even pick up that vital tool to finally finish off that DIY project whilst you’re at it!

Surrey House

Bookable tour and drop-in options. Friday, September 8 & Friday, September 15. Check listing for timings.

Discover the architectural delights of Surrey House, now home to Aviva. This historic building is a treat for the eyes, with the Marble Hall designed by George Skipper, who was also the architect for The Royal Arcade, and his style certainly is reflected in Surrey House too.

You can drop in any time between 9am and 5pm on Fridays during the festival, or if you would like to delve deeper into the history, book an exclusive tour of the House taking place at various times throughout the two days. You won’t be disappointed!

A large marbled room

Surrey House is well worth the visit! Credit: Richard Baldwin

Morris Dancing

No booking required. Saturday, September 16, 10.30am – 4pm.

Colourful dancers will be taking to the streets of Norwich demonstrating traditional dances including Morris dancing with sticks and hankies, clog dancing and more!

Morris dancing performances will be taking place at many locations in Norwich city centre, including The Forum and Chantry Square. This is a great opportunity to see a wide variety of different styles of traditional dance and costumes! Great fun to watch, and the dancers are always happy to chat and answer your questions.

Morris Dancers perform in a sunny setting.

Don’t miss the Morris Dancing on Millennium Plain! Credit: Heritage Open Days

Norwich 100: Caring for the past and future

No booking required. Saturday, September 16, 10.30am – 4pm.

From saving the historic Elm Hill area from demolition in the 1920s, to recently campaigning for better development of the Anglia Square site, The Norwich Society have been championing the built environment and public spaces in Norwich and celebrating the city’s unique character and beauty since 1923.

To mark the occasion of 100 years of valuable work, you’ll find a photographic exhibition at The Forum for the duration of HODs. The exhibition will showcase 100 places in Norwich, each of which represents The Norwich Society’s activities and campaigning over the decades.

Alongside the photography exhibition, there are also informative talks taking place in The Forum’s Auditorium. These will look at the threat to some of the key historic buildings that led to the Norwich Society’s establishment.

They are also presenting the People’s Choice, which will feature places that Norwich people value or hold particularly dear. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to nominate their own choices. Got any ideas on what or where you would nominate?

A cobbled road forks into two paths

Elm Hill is one of Norwich’s most iconic places, it’s a must-see! Credit: The Norwich Society

Plantation Garden

Drop-in. Sunday, September 10, 9am – 6pm.

Often referred to as the “Secret Garden of Norwich”, The Plantation Gardens have an idyllic day planned for HODs with local musicians and afternoon tea refreshments for all the family to enjoy. Entry is free so you can discover the history of the creation of the Garden, and how it was neglected in the mid-20th century, luckily it was rediscovered and restored from 1980. It’s not difficult to fall in love with this Victorian garden, with its gothic fountain and Italianate terrace, formal planting and woodland walks.

A Victorian garden is filled with vibrant colours of green and red flowers, complete with a water fountain.

Have you discovered the Secret Garden of Norwich?

Eaton Park: Re-imagined for a changing world 

Booking required. Sunday, September 10 at 2.30pm.

The largest in the area spanning 80-acres, Eaton Park is often a top-pick of the best parks in Norwich.

Join The Friends of Eaton Park on a walking tour where you’ll admire and hear about the historic architecture, the route taking you past the lily pond and the boating lake. Attendees will be granted special access to the balcony of the Boating Pavillion (thanks to the Norwich Model Boat Club), providing stunning, panoramic views of the park. The tour even includes a trip to miniature railway for a free train ride across one of the meadow areas, courtesy of the Norwich and District Society of Model Engineers. After this, you’ll return to the Friends room via the Rose Garden for a further look at bits and bobs from the archive, revealing more stories and history of the area.

A vibrant red DIY store sits on the corner of a cobbled road

Eaton Park

So why not celebrate history and discover the unknown this September, for free!

Here’s what you need to know to be part of it all: