It’s September – and Heritage Open Days are here again.

Close attention to these columns over the years will have given you the lowdown on the phenomenon that is HODs (to give the event its less formal designation); but if you’ve missed the information over the years, it may be worth reiterating the value of the event.

The HODS scheme was started in 1994 by the former national body The Civic Trust. It encourages historic buildings – most of them usually closed to the public or normally making a charge for admission – to throw open their doors, free of charge, to everyone to have a look around. All around England (except for London, which has its own scheme) an enormous range of buildings, from the humblest to the grandest, of every age, style and function, will welcome visitors.

This year for the first time HODs will cover not just one weekend, but two, suggesting how important and popular the event has become. Properties around the country will be open from 6 to 9 and 13 to 16 September.

Ripon is not being left out, though we have mostly confined openings to the first weekend, on 8 and 9 September. On the morning of Sunday 9 September there will be guided walk around the city by the Civic Society, starting at 11.00 am from the obelisk in the Market Square and lasting about an hour and a half.

The Civic Society will once again be opening The Gazebo, off Blossomgate in Ripon. For the first time it will be open on both days, 8 and 9 September, from 2.00pm to 4.00pm. If you’ve never been (and a surprising number of people even in Ripon haven’t!) you’re in for a surprise. It’s an 18th-century folly – a garden pavilion, constructed for a grand house in Park Street, and consisting of two two-storey towers capped with pantiled roofs and connected by an arched walkway – an elegant and unexpected survivor of an earlier age. It’s hidden behind the buildings of Blossomgate Court, and hardly visible from any direction. This annual HODs opening is the only time that access is possible, so make the most of the chance this year! Follow the signs from Blossomgate.

Also opening again this year is the library of Ripon Grammar School, on Clotherholme Road. This was once the main school hall of the original grammar school buildings, designed by the Leeds-based Victorian architect George Corson (responsible also for Ripon’s Victoria Clock Tower and for Leeds Grand Theatre, among much else). When the school was extended in the early 1960s the original hall became the library; a gallery was subsequently added to increase the studying and storage space. The library will be open on 9 September from 1.00pm to 4.00pm and there will be a display about the area’s connections with World War I.

In the city centre there are two other buildings that will be open for HODs. On Saturday 8 September the ringing chamber of Ripon Cathedral will be open to a limited number of visitors. There will be two tours, at 3.00pm and 4.00pm, each limited to ten people; to join one of the tours you must obtain a ticket from the cathedral shop. That will allow you to see the room in the south-west tower from which the bells are rung and learn about bell-ringing techniques and peals from the experts. Be aware that there are narrow stairs to negotiate.

Not too far away, the Masonic Hall, at the corner of Water Skellgate and High Skellgate, will also be open from 2.00pm to 4.00pm on Sunday 9 September Home to the De Grey and Ripon Lodge of Freemasons, the Hall’s foundation stone was laid in 1902 with full Masonic ceremony; its 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 chequerboard carpet and special seats for the different Lodge officials.

All these opening have been organised by Ripon Civic Society will the generous help of those in charge of each venue. There are other openings, not organised by Ripon Civic Society but supporting HODs, in the area, too.

Ripon Workhouse Museum and Garden, Allhallowgate, opens on Saturday 8 September from 11.00am to 4.00pm. Families can follow the Workhouse trail, take a picnic in the grounds and the restored kitchen garden and meet some of the costumed inmates. The Workhouse Master will give a tour of the building at 12.00 noon and 2.00pm. You can also find out ‘What’s cooking at the Workhouse?’

A little further afield, St John’s Church, Sharow, will be open on Sunday 9 September from 12.00 noon to 4.00pm. It offers a chance to see the transformation that recent restoration work has brought about, and learn something about the life of Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence, last of the Aislabie family of Studley Royal and founder of the church.

And on the Fountains Abbey estate there’s a rare chance to enjoy the views of the parkland from the normally locked How Hill Tower, built in 1716 as part of John Aislabie’s design to create dramatic focal points. On Sunday 15 September visitors can learn about its history, look inside the tower and find out about plans to restore and conserve it. Entry is by guided visit only, at 11.00am, 1.00pm and 3.00pm. Booking is essential – call 01765 643189.

So there’s plenty to do in and about Ripon for Heritage Open Days – why not come along and see for yourself?

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