September is always busy with many events taking place. For the Heritage Team, it is the ‘Heritage Open Days’ or, in London ‘Open House’ that is the main event of the month.
The concept is simple: opening the doors of places not otherwise freely accessible to members of the public for that one weekend in the year. Not exactly an event that people would associate with a canal network freely accessible to visitors, 24hrs a day and 365 days, and yet…
I have always been a big fan of Open House and already back home I used to look forward with anticipation at the weekend of ‘Journée porte ouverte’. People’s willingness to open their doors to complete strangers is heartening, and there is a certain atmosphere of camaraderie as visitors chat to each other in queues and exchange tips of what to visit.
London was really buzzy that weekend, with long queues forming in place such as at the Bank of England or the ‘cheese greater’. But small private dwellings are equally extremely popular and so were our own sites.
My colleagues in the West Midlands Waterway hosted two Heritage Open Days. On Saturday 13 in partnership with Sandwell MBC & The Friends of Galton Valley visitors were invited to Galton Valley in Smethwick to see the ‘new’ Smethwick Pumping Station and the steam engines which were used to pump water around the Birmingham Main Line Canal. Visitors also took part in guided walks to explore the hidden heritage and nature of Galton Valley.
On Sunday 14 September visitors got the chance to visit the famous Dudley Tunnel & Limestone Mines. A special boat trip was arranged with Dudley Canal Trust to take 50 visitors through the tunnels to discover the wonder of the limestone caverns. They also got the opportunity to enjoy a music and light show in the famous Singing Cavern and saw the fossilised remains of creatures and plants which were once in the sea bed.
In London, we opened the West India Dock Impounding Station in Docklands and the control room of Three Mills Lock in Newham. I was ‘on duty’ at the Impounding Station alongside colleagues who operates the pump, and from the water management team as well as volunteers; and over a Saturday we had over 300 people coming through the doors with some arriving half an hour before we were due to open.
I enjoy these events, it gives a lot of satisfaction to be able to share our knowledge and to get some recognition for the work the Trust is doing. Visitors are very grateful and do show their appreciation. The dates are in the diary for next year, 19 and 20 September for London, and we have already started thinking about what we should open and organise.
Hopefully we will see you then.
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.See more blogs from this author