15 of the best free Heritage Open Days to discover in Essex this September

There will be dozens of Heritage Open Days in Essex in September.

There will be dozens of Heritage Open Days in Essex in September. - Credit: Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days, England's largest festival of history and culture, returns to Essex in September.

You can explore the places and spaces on your doorstep at various venues in the county, including free Essex events as varied as a guided walk around an archaeological site to exploring medieval ruins.

Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, local residents and visitors will be able to try new experiences across the region between September 10 to September 19, 2021.

Every single Heritage Open Days event is free, including access to many sites that usually charge for admission.

Many events will explore this year’s theme of Edible England, offering opportunities to learn about food production, celebrate local specialities, and uncover the customs and quirks around what we eat and drink. 

Sarah Holloway, programme manager for Heritage Open Days, said: “We’re all interested in where we live but we don’t necessarily know the stories behind the buildings and spaces we walk past each day.

"Our event organisers keep finding creative ways to tell these tales and keep them alive. 

Most Read

"HODs connects people through shared experiences and this year, that feels more important than ever. It’s also one of the reasons we chose Edible England as our theme. Food brings people together and what we eat and drink is at the heart of much of our culture, our history, our communities, and our daily lives.” 

Heritage Open Days is coordinated and promoted nationally by the National Trust with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Highlights from across Essex include the following 15 events.


1. Marconi History Guided Walk and site tour

You can discover all about Marconi in a walk in Essex.

You can discover all about Marconi on a walk in Essex. - Credit: Supplied by Heritage Open Days.

Where: The Marconi Wireless Factory, Hall Street, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 0HG.

Celebrate Marconi’s achievements – and those of the thousands of local people who worked for the company.

This walking tour will start at the world's first wireless factory, follow a route through the city and finish on the site of the world's first purpose-built radio factory in New Street where pioneering broadcasts were made.

The wireless factory in Hall Street was where the radio equipment for the RMS Titanic was made.

When: Friday, September 10, 10am to 11.30am.

Pre-booking: Required. As this may be a popular event,  go to https://www.chelmsfordcivicsociety.co.uk/heritage-open-days.html


2. Colne Valley Postal History Museum

Postal Museum in Essex.

Postal Museum in Essex. - Credit: Steve Knight CVPHM

Where: 109 Head Street, Halstead, Essex, CO9 2AZ.

Enjoy lots of ‘hands on’ experiences at this privately owned museum.

Children can try on uniform, work the machines and post their own letters.

See how a rural post office looked in the 1940s/50s and 1980/90s, plus, at least one vintage mail van will be in attendance.

When: Saturday, September 11, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: Preferred.


3. Abbey Lane Chapel  

Where: United Reformed Church, Abbey Lane, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 1AG.

Experience the rich interior, pulpit, pews, screen, gallery and organ of this 1811 non-conformist chapel – a fine example of a 19th century interior and learn about the central role this church has played in the life of Saffron Walden.

A history exhibition in the chapel during the Heritage Open Day weekend will provide further information about the building and the history of the congregation which goes back to 1665.

When: Friday, September 17 and Saturday, September 18, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: No booking required.


4. 'Essex Queens of Crime' a talk by Dr Vivien Newman

Where: Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road, Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 1JG.

Dr Vivien Newman talks about Helena Normanton, Dorothy L Sayers and Edith Thompson, three women with Essex links who played a pivotal role in life in the 1920s and beyond.

When: Thursday, September 16. Performance: 7.30pm to 8.30pm.

Pre-booking: Required.


5. Brewing Tours of the Chelmsford Brew Co.

Where: 2 Brewery Fields, Church Street, Great Baddow, Essex, CM2 7LE.

Located in Great Baddow, the village has a proud heritage of brewing which dates back to 1798.

The tours will allow visitors an insight into the background behind the science of beer making.

When: Friday, September 10 and Friday, September 17. Tours at 10am, 110am and noon.

Pre-booking: Required.


6. Warner Textile Archive 

Where: Warner Textile Archive, Silks Way, Braintree, Essex, CM7 3GB.

The Warner Textile Archive is the largest publicly owned collection from a luxury textile manufacturer in the UK. 

Book in to enjoy a behind-the-scenes visit where you will be able to walk around part of the building that housed the original Warners Mill. 

When: Saturday, September 11 and Saturday, September 18, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: Required. All visits must be booked in advance by calling Braintree Museum.


7. Hidden Writtle University College Walk and Draw 

Hidden Writtle University College Walk and Draw

Hidden Writtle University College Walk and Draw - Credit: Supplied by Heritage Open Days

Where: Writtle University College, Lordship Lane, Writtle, Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 3RR.

A walk through the grounds of the University College, visiting the secluded gardens and animals that are tended to by the staff and students throughout the year.

There will be a chance to stop to draw in fun and interesting ways during the walk.

When: Saturday, September 11, from 10.30am to 1.30pm.

Pre-booking: Booking in advance is required.


8. Meet the Green Machines  

Meet the Green Machines

Meet the Green Machines - Credit: Supplied by Heritage Open Days

Where: The field behind The Bell Public House, Main Road, Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford, Essex, CM3 8RF.

Meet the members of the Essex Historic Military Vehicle Association (HMVA) and see their display of vehicles and equipment.

There will be tours of their storage barn and restoration facilities.

When: Sunday, September 19, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: Book on day. For tours of the storage barn, book at the information point when you arrive.


9. Combined Military Services Museum

Combined Military Museum - Thunderbird Gate Guardian

Combined Military Museum - Thunderbird Gate Guardian - Credit: Andy Jones Photography

Where: Combined Military Museum, Carriage House, Station Road, Maldon, Essex, CM9 4LQ.

Taking part in Heritage Open Days for the very first time, the Combined Military Services Museum holds an important and exciting collection of military uniforms, weapons, espionage and special operations equipment.

When: Saturday, September 11 and Sunday, September 12, 10am to 4pm, close at 5pm.

Pre-booking: Required. Groups of up to 6 at 15 minute intervals.


10. St Giles Ruins 

St Giles Ruins in Essex.

St Giles Ruins in Essex. - Credit: Supplied by Heritage Open Days

Where: St Giles Ruins (opposite St Giles Crescent), Spital Road, Maldon, Essex, CM9 6ED.

Explore the ruins of the medieval leper hospital of St Giles, Maldon’s only ancient scheduled monument.

Learn about medicine and medieval hospitals through a pop-up exhibition designed by researchers from University College London.

When: Saturday, September 11, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: No booking required.


11. Hylands House and Estate – Open Day

Where: Hylands House, London Road, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 8WQ.

Visit the majestic Hylands House, set in its parkland estate, on Farmer's Market day.

Discover the special exhibition on the lives of the servants who worked on the estate and in the house.

Browse at your own leisure or join the 11am guided tour led by one of the Hylands House team.

When: Sunday, September 19, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: No booking required.


12. Chelmsford Cathedral Tour

Where: Chelmsford Cathedral, New Street, Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 1TY.

A 90-minute tour of the Cathedral led by a guide featuring the history and purpose of the building from medieval times to the present day.

When: Saturday, September 18. Tour 10am to 11.30am.

Pre-booking: Required.


13. Braintree Museum

Where: Braintree District Museum, Manor Street, Braintree, Essex, CM7 3HW.

Braintree Museum holds a collection from Braintree and Bocking including archaeology, ceramics, local history, photographs and textiles.

When: Saturday, September 11 and Saturday, September 18, 10am to 4pm.

Pre-booking: No booking required.


14. Gosbecks Archaeological Park

Where: Gosbecks Archaeological Park, Maldon Road, Colchester, Essex, CO3 4RN.

A guided walk around this remarkable archaeological site which features prominently in the story of Iron Age and Roman Colchester.

When: Sunday, September 19. Tours at 11am and 4pm.

Pre-booking: No booking required.


15. Medieval Colchester Tour

Where: St James the Less & St Helen, Catholic Church, 51 Priory Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 2QB.

A guided tour around the town centre of Colchester, focusing on places and stories associated with the town's medieval religious heritage.

The tour includes Holy Trinity Church, built by the Anglo-Saxons around 1000 AD, and St John's Abbey, medieval Colchester's most important religious building.

When: Saturday, September 18, 2.30pm to 3.30pm.

Pre-booking: No booking required.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter