Fancy nosing behind some of those intriguing doors you see leading off Oxford’s cobbled streets? Well, this is your chance, as the annual Oxford Open Doors celebrates its 15th year of getting VIP (and free) access to some of the city’s most unusual and prestigious spaces thanks to the Oxford Preservation Trust. It’s on next weekend – 10 & 11 Sept and includes both drop-in and bookable events such as guided walks, lectures and exhibitions. With many events sold out already you need to get your skates on for the hottest tickets (or join the OPT for exclusive access to members only events). Don’t know where to start? To give you a steer, here’s my favourites…
The Painted Room is a real gem with Shakespearean and Betjeman links, and somewhere you’d never find if it wasn’t for Oxford Open Doors. For starters, it is hidden behind a mobile phone shop and a bookies, and secondly, it’s only open for this weekend or by special arrangement. The rooms used to be the bedrooms of the 14th century timber-framed Crown Tavern, and include oak-panelled walls, ancient brickwork, and the stunning Elizabethan wall paintings that give the room its name. This is the very place where it’s thought Shakespeare stayed on his trips from London to Stratford-upon-Avon, and, as the former offices of The Oxford Preservation Trust, it’s where the poet and writer John Betjeman worked when he served as secretary in the 1940s. Open Sat 10 Sept (10am-4pm).
Budding scientists young and old will leap at the chance to see inside the labs where the Oxford-Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine was developed. As part of Open Doors, you can explore the Old Road Campus through hands-on family friendly activities (some are 16+) including seeing robots and microscope demos, plus a chance to meet researchers through lectures and discussions to hear about their ongoing work into cancer, vaccines and drugs. Open Sat 10 Sept (12.30pm-4pm). Another goodie for kids is The County Library, which will be showcasing its local history books and has drop-in activities running origami, story time and Code Club (which needs to be booked in advance).
If you’re after a bit of fresh air and some greenery, there are walks on the city limits, including a walk around Wytham Woods, which is used extensively by University scientists for their research. The two-hour walk is hosted by Dr Keith Kirby who will talk about the science, ecology and the history of the woods (Sun 11 Sept, 2-4pm). And for a different take on Wolvercote Lakes, you can join ‘Before the Ashes Lose Their Leaves’, a guided walk with headphones themed around ash trees, cultural heritage, and motherhood, and created by Oxford-based composer and audio producer Hannah Fredsgaard-Jones (Sat 10 Sept & Sun 11 Sept 11am & 2pm).
Small people in heaven alert! The Oxford Bus Museum is offering free rides on one of its vintage buses around Oxford city centre – no booking required, just check out the timetable and turn up at one of the stops between 10am-4pm on Sat 10 Sept for a free ride around town.
Art lovers should pop to the Turrill Sculpture Garden (Sat 10 Sept 10am-4pm) to see the metalwork by Bruce Garside, Wilbur Heynes and Christopher Townsend. While the venue is usually open to the public, for Open Doors, the exhibiting sculptors will actually be there to talk about their work with visitors.
Exclusive access is also being granted at Oxford Town Hall, which houses the Museum of Oxford, the Town Hall Café and the HQ of Oxford City Council. The free tour (usually £5) includes rooms not normally open to the public such as the fancifully-named Lord Mayor’s Parlour. Tours at 1.30pm and 3.00pm on Sat 10 Sept. Pre-book on the museum website.
Oxford Colleges vary in their opening times and access, but for Open Doors, there are all kinds of treasures that welcome prying eyes. As one of the city’s oldest college’s Balliol has a huge archive, and for Open Doors, it is making its Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church available to visit (normally only accessible by appointment). The collection includes books and manuscripts covering all aspects of the College’s history and its alumni including Graham Greene and Robert Browning, plus Richard Hill’s memorandum book (the source of many English carols). It’s not just ye olde Oxford either. This year, Exeter College will be showing off its relatively new Cohen Quadrangle on Walton Street (Sat 10 Sept, 10am-4pm), a bright and alternative take on the Oxford quad.
And finally – a few of the more quirky additions – the lesser-known Rewley Road Swing Bridge, which is being restored thanks to the Oxford Preservation Trust; the Blavatnik School of Government, for its striking glass and steel architecture (and frankly James Bond title), designed by Herzog and de Meuron, or the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, with its moving memorial to the servicemen (and one woman) who died in the two world wars.
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