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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 11th September 2009
Heritage Open Days give visitors the chance to see behind doors that are often closed to them, says David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society

How often do you walk past a building and wonder what it’s like inside? If it’s a building on a main street that seems to be used for something important, but you’re not quite sure what, do you feel an urge to push open the door and have a look around?

Once a year Heritage Open Days give you the chance to do just that! All around the country people are given the chance to see interesting buildings, many of which are rarely open to the public – and all for nothing. It’s a celebration of the rich heritage of buildings in England and Wales, and gives you the chance to be inquisitive without being ticked off for trespassing.

Heritage Open Days used to be run by the Civic Trust, but since earlier this year the Trust is no longer operational. The whole scheme could have been lost – but fortunately English Heritage gallantly took on the central organisation of the event, and this year it seems to be bigger than ever.

It is up to local organisations – often local Civic Societies – to get the Heritage Open Days moving. Ripon Civic Society has been involved for some years. For the last few the Society has arranged the opening of just one building – but it is one of the most fascinating and least known of the structures in Ripon – the Gazebo.

It is hidden away behind Blossomgate Court, a sheltered housing scheme on Blossomgate, and can only be seen on Heritage Open Days or by special arrangement with the Civic Society, which holds the keys. Constructed in the first part of the eighteenth century in the garden of a large house in fashionable Park Street, the brick-built Gazebo consists of two towers linked by an open, balustraded walkway, from which the owners and their guests could look down on the extensive gardens.

The Gazebo was restored by Harrogate Borough Council, with the support of Ripon Civic Society, more than 20 years ago after many years of neglect. The roofs had gone, the brickwork was crumbling and the woodwork had rotted. Ownership was split between Harrogate Borough Council and a private owner and a Compulsory Purchase Order was needed so that full repairs could be made.

If you’ve never seen it, now is your chance! It is open on Sunday 13 September from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm, and members of the Civic Society will be on hand to tell visitors about the structure and its history.

This year, though, another of Ripon’s unknown buildings will be opening up for visitors – the Masonic Hall at the corner of Water Skellgate and High Skellgate. The De Grey and Ripon Lodge has very generously agreed to open the building at the same time as the Gazebo. The foundation stone for the building was laid in 1902 with full Masonic ceremony, and the interior is little-altered since then, except that the ground floor, which originally incorporated shops to bring in income, is now all used by the Lodge.

Inside there are reminders of the Lodge’s past – Ripon was one of the earliest places in Yorkshire to embrace Freemasonry – and some of the regalia will be on display. Members of the Lodge will be on hand to answer questions and show visitors around. At the heart of the Hall is the Temple, with its new chequerboard carpet and special seats for the different Lodge officials.

While you’re looking around Ripon, go along to St Mary Magdalen’s Chapel on Magdalen’s Road, a Grade I listed building, where the ancient Codling Feast is being celebrated with tastings of apples, cider and apple juice, as well as having apple pies and crumble for sale. This event is organised by the Friends of St Mary Magdalen’s, and the Chapel is open on Sunday from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm.

And if you’ve never been inside the foyer of the Spa Baths, Harrogate Borough Council is welcoming visitors on Thursday from 7.30 am to 1.30 pm, 2.15 pm to 4.00 pm and 6.00 pm to 8.00 pm, on Saturday 9.00 am to 10.00 am and 1.00 pm to 3.45 pm and on Sunday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm This was the original Pump Room, and it’s full of wonderful Art Nouveau tile work and stained glass. You can still see where the Edwardians took the spa water, piped four miles from Aldfield.

Ripon Civic Society is grateful to everyone who has helped to support the Heritage Open Days this year – come along on Sunday 13 September and see what’s behind those closed doors!

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