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Heritage Open days

PUBLISHED: 11:03 24 August 2009 | UPDATED: 16:12 20 February 2013

Discover the hidden history and heritage of Kent through this month's unmissable Heritage Open Days initiative...

Discover the hidden history and heritage of Kent through this month's unmissable Heritage Open Days initiative.

Kent has a wealth of history, ranging from stunning buildings and sites of national importance to unusual or even quirky venues, and the annual Heritage

Open Days initiative provides a great opportunity to really get to know your county.

Coordinated by English Heritage, this free event is part of a nationwide celebration of community history and heritage. The 2009 programme includes around 100 events in Kent, suitable for all ages and entirely free of charge - from public and private buildings and gardens open to the public to guided walks, behind-the scenes-tours, activities bringing history to life and much more.

Heritage Open Days is an event for all ages, but some activities have been especially planned with younger visitors in mind - so why don't you get your children or grandchildren to ring a church bell at St Mary's Church, Dover, grind flour at Cranbrook Windmill or get dirty helping Stephen the charcoal burner in Barnett's Wood Nature Reserve in High Brooms, making the fuel which once powered the local iron industry?

Or why not find out about a school during wartime at St Matthew's School, High Brooms, in the air raid shelters under the playground? This is where pupils sheltered when the first unexploded doodlebug to land in Britain was being made safe, just a few hundred yards along the road from the school.

You can take a seat in the school room at Ditton Heritage Centre and learn about Victorian education, defend the medieval West Gate at Canterbury: would-be warriors

can then make a model tower and catapult to take home.

The oldest venue on the 2009 Kent programme is the megalithic burial chamber at Kit's Coty, near Maidstone. This ancient structure is believed to have been given its current name - meaning Kit's House - when it was used for the fifth-century burial of the leader Catigern after a major Dark Ages battle at Aylesford.

Other fascinating venues include a rare opportunity to go inside a Victorian tomb, the Wynn Ellis Mausoleum in Whitstable. Still on the theme of burials, guided tours for Heritage Open Days include St Peter's Churchyard in Broadstairs - the longest churchyard in England - and Woodbury Park Cemetery in Tunbridge Wells, the location of the recently restored grave of Jacob Bell, founder of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Many parish churches contain the graves of interesting local people, such as Tonbridge Parish Church with its Austen connections and St Peter's in Southborough, with the tomb of a man who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade and wrote about the battle from the perspective of an ordinary soldier.

Seventy years after the outbreak of the Second World War, venues associated with military history feature in the 2009 Heritage Open Days programme. A Second World War costume exhibition is one of the attractions at the Oast Theatre on the Tonbridge/Hildenborough border.

West Malling airfield was a key operational base during the Second World War and exhibitions about the history of the airfield can be visited at the Twitch Heritage Centre at Douces Manor (where the basement was a recreation area for the pilots) and in the Clout Institute.

Those who like to explore the history of the landscape or historic settlements might choose to head for the White Cliffs Visitor Centre near Dover and its five miles of the chalk downs. Nearby, South Foreland lighthouse, used by Marconi and Faraday for their pioneering electrical experiments , offers far-reaching views across East Kent and the Channel.

Further along the coast, a visit to Reculver Towers and Country Park can include an archaeological tour of the 12th-century tower led by a specialist from Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit.

Near Tunbridge Wells, the Commons Warden leads a guided walk of Rusthall Common, a landscape with a history of use by man going back a millennium. In the Royal spa town itself, the team of blue badge guides follow in the footsteps of those who came to take the waters and entertain visitors with tales of disreputable Georgian amusements.

The village area of St Peter's, Broadstairs, will be populated by costumed characters, bringing their community's history to life in a guided walk that is positively covered in awards. This summer, The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service joined the extraordinary accolade late last year when the Tour was highly commended in Virgin Holidays' search for the world's most responsible tourist destination - finishing behind only New Zealand!

Other towns welcoming visitors for guided walks include Cranbrook, Tonbridge (where you can take the Jane Austen Walk) andneighbouring Southborough.

Kent has an important and fascinating ecclesiastical history. Sites from the medieval period welcoming visitors for Heritage Open Days include 12th-century St Radigund's Abbey, Dover, and Eastbridge Hospital, Canterbury. The Hospital was not a medical facility as we would understand the term today, but provided guest accommodation for the Canterbury pilgrims.

Dating from the 13th century is the chapel of the first English Franciscan friary: Greyfriars, Canterbury, constructed in 1267, during the lifetime of the founder of the order Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan brothers were banished by Henry VIII in 1538 but since 2003, have once again been worshipping in the friary chapel.

A number of medieval churches across the county are opening their doors to visitors. Do not miss the opportunity to enjoy their historic architecture, particularly the medieval wall paintings at St Margaret's Darenth and at St Thomas à Becket in Capel, near Tonbridge.

Perhaps the most remarkable examples of modern ecclesiastical art in Kent are the late-20th century stained glass windows by Marc Chagall at All Saints Tudeley - the only church to have a complete set of Chagall windows. These stunning designs, with bold colours and intriguing images, were commissioned as a memorial to Sarah D'Avigdor Goldsmid, whose former family home, the Jacobean mansion at nearby Somerhill, also welcomes visitors for Heritage Open Days.

The Old Synagogue at Canterbury will also open. Built in 1847, it was a synagogue until the 1930s and has been recently restored by its current owners, King's School. In Southborough, near Tunbridge Wells, Salomons, home of Sir David Salomons, the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, provides guided tours for visitors.

Sir David was a noted campaigner for the rights of practising Jews to participate in public life. The museum includes a seat from the House of Commons - the very seat from which Sir David was ejected when he refused to take a Christian oath.

So, in the programme there is bound to be something of interest to almost everyone. Do check opening times and take the opportunity to extend your understanding and appreciation of Kent's heritage.

Find out more

For full details on opening dates and times, look out for local posters and leaflets or click on the links page - http://www.kent-life.co.uk/links-september-2009-links--200628

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