It’s a good weekend for a day trip with heritage sites all around the fringes of greater London throwing their doors open this weekend as part of the annual Heritage Open Days event. Among places taking part in this year’s event – which will be followed by Open House London next weekend – are Cleaves Almshouses – established in 1669 and located in Kingston upon Thames, Watford’s oldest building – St Mary’s Church, Lopping Hall in Loughton (so named for the fact it was given to the townspeople in exchange for lopping rights in Epping Forest), and St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance at Biggin Hill Airfield in Kent. There are more than 4,500 properties taking part over the weekend, which kicks off today and runs until Sunday, across England. For more information – including full listings of all premises taking part, check out www.heritageopendays.org.uk.

A new display taking at in-depth look at the complexities of supplying soldiers in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province opened at the Imperial War Museum this week. War Story: Supplying Frontline Afghanistan follows the journey from RAF Brize Norton in the UK to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and then to forward operating bases and patrol bases on the frontline and features photographs, interviews and time lapse footage collected by IWM staff on trips to Afghanistan undertaken last year and this year – the first time IWM teams have visited an active theatre of conflict since World War I. Runs until 27th April. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

A blue plaque honouring actor and film director Leslie Howard was unveiled by English Heritage at his former childhood home in Upper Norwood in south London last week. Born in the London suburb of Forest Hill, his family moved to Vienna when was only three-years-old but returned to London five years later and lived at 45 Farquhar Road in Upper Norwood for the next four years before moving to another address nearby. Howard made his West End debut in 1917 – adopting the stage name Leslie Howard in favor of his birth name Leslie Howard Steiner – subsequently appeared on stage and in films including Pygmalion (1938) and Gone with the Wind (1939). He died in 1943 when the plane he was in was shot down by enemy fire over the English Channel. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Around London…

September 9, 2010

• It’s only a week to go until the annual Open House London event. Held on the 18th and 19th September, Open House London is your chance to get inside all manner of buildings – from private homes through to grand edifices – which are often normally closed to the public. Be warned, however, that some buildings, such as the BT Tower (open for the first time) require bookings to be made. These close 15th September, so you’ll have to be quick. The free event, which has run for 18 years, also includes neighbourhood walks, cycle tours and talks. For more information on the event, to purchase the guide (an electronic copy can be downloaded for £3.50) or to find out how to book, head to www.openhouselondon.org.uk.

Looking for a weekend out of the city? English Heritage’s Heritage Open Days program – which doesn’t cover London – runs from today until Sunday and grants free access to properties around the country which are either normally closed to the public or usually charge admission fees. The program includes buildings ranging from medieval castles and Georgian townhouses through to World War II cemeteries and 21st century eco-homes. Among the properties within easy reach of daytrippers from London are Waverley Abbey in Fareham, Surrey – founded in 1128, it was the first in England housing Cistercian monks; an historic ‘net shop’ in Hastings, East Sussex; the Battle of Britain command centre at Bentley Priory in Stanmore, Hertfordshire (see picture of the entrance hall above); and, the new Aardman Animation headquarters in Bristol, home to the creators of Wallace and Gromit. Some places require prebooking so check before heading off. For more information, see www.heritageopendays.org.uk.

• The headless skeleton of a rare North Atlantic right whale recently found in the Thames has gone on display at the Museum of London Docklands. The seven metre long, half tonne skeleton was unearthed at Bay Wharf Greenwich by archaeologists and is believed to be the largest single object ever found at an archaeological dig in the city. The skeleton is only on display in the museum’s foyer until 14th September when it goes to the Natural History Museum. Entry is free. For more information, see www.museumindocklands.org.uk.