Free drop-in events at Open Cambridge next month

The library at Westminster College

The library at Westminster College

The library at Westminster College

Open Cambridge, one of the region’s largest festivals of history and culture, kicks off on Friday 8th September. The annual event boasts over 30 drop-in events and a further 70 bookable events. The full programme is now available online and bookings have opened.

The 10-day festival is part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme, which has chosen the theme ‘creativity unwrapped’ for 2023. Stories are told, traditions explored, and histories brought to life. The idea behind the scheme is to offer everyone the chance to see places they normally wouldn’t be able to see and to try out new experiences – and it’s all FREE.

The following showcases a small selection of the drop-in events tipped to offer all culture vultures a fascinating fix.

For starters, how about an evening of lively traditional music from Cambridgeshire's Button End Band who will be performing 17th Century Dance Music on 9th September. The Button End Band perform early music, social and ritual dance tunes, popular ballads, protest songs and contemporary folk. A lively and hugely entertaining group, the band play the fiddle, guitar, banjo, hurdy gurdy, recorder, piano and melodeon.

Or how about Music in the Parks (10 Sept) with the Soham Comrades Band? Music in the Parks is a highlight in the city’s summer calendar with people getting together in their local parks and recreation grounds to chill out and listen to free live afternoon music. The Soham Comrades Band performs throughout the Eastern area and competes both locally and nationally. During the last few years, the band has reached the finals of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

Staying with the theme of performance, Shakespeare and Theatre in Cambridge (8 Sept) celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays. King’s College will present the King's Library copy (one of only four copies in Cambridge) alongside other early editions of his plays and archival materials about Shakespeare and theatre in Cambridge. The First Folio is the most famous edition of the Bard’s plays, and it includes all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s, about half of which were not published during his lifetime. This must-see exhibition will guide visitors through the theatrical world of King’s, from the local—establishment of the Cambridge Arts Theatre as well as a strong tradition of involvement in student theatre—all the way to the national stage.

Front title page of King's College Library's copy of Shakespeare's First Folio

Front title page of King's College Library's copy of Shakespeare's First Folio

Front title page of King's College Library's copy of Shakespeare's First Folio

Walks and trails are always incredibly popular during Open Cambridge. Amongst the several taking place, the following are two of the finest examples. The Wolfson's Tree Trail, which runs for the duration of the festival, is a self-guided tree trail around the beautiful and varied garden 'rooms' of the grounds of Wolfson College.

Meanwhile, during the Wildlife in the City Trail at the Museum of Zoology, visitors can explore the Museum and look for the often-overlooked animals that live alongside us in towns and cities in the Museum’s collections. The trail can be picked up from the Museum or downloaded from their website.

Open days are another big feature of the Open Cambridge programme this year. At the Abbey House Open Day (16 Sept), visitors can find out more about the rich history of Abbey House, which was built circa 1578 on the site of an 11th century priory and is now home to a community belonging to the Triratna Buddhist community. The guided tours will take visitors on a journey through the grounds and house, spiced with stories of ghosts and former owners. Visitors can then relax with tea and cake in the large walled garden or visit the exhibition that includes historic maps of the area.

Another unmissable open day event is at Westminster College (17 Sept), which includes a series of tours and access to the Chapel, Library, Assembly Room, Dining Hall, Gibson Room, Lewis Room and Senatus Room. The College’s Archivist, Helen Weller, will provide ‘self-guided tour’ and ‘treasure hunt’ leaflets and each room will have an information board. The stunning gardens will also be open for people to freely wander around.

And if that’s not enough, there will be a series of tours, displays and fascinating talks about the medieval All Saints church in Cottenham – a single Grade I listed building with its distinctive 17th-century tower – during their Open Day (16 Sept).

Or why not explore Girton's only nature reserve at the Town End Close Open Day (11 Sept). During the day, volunteers from the Girton Green Team and the Local Nature Recovery Plan will be on hand to chat about the plants, birds, insects and pond life found at the reserve.

Further drop-in events include a visit to the neo-classical Cambridge Observatory building, which is 200 years old this year, during Open Observatory (8 Sept). And discover the story of how the Scott Polar Research Institute was founded through archival displays and a new interactive textile work by artist, Lindsey Holmes, during On the Coat Tails of History: From the slopes of an Antarctic volcano to Cambridge (15 Sept).

Finally, in these fast-paced times, we all need a bit of downtime for silence and reflection. Throughout the Festival, Cambridge Quakers will offer a space to share silence together during Drop In Silence. Escape the noise and join the stillness for as long as you like. No religion, no catch. Gathering in silence can help you stop, collect your thoughts, and connect to what matters to you. Everyone is welcome to drop in for as long or as short as they feel like.

Open Cambridge (8-17 September) is a celebration of our community, the heritage, history and stories of Cambridge and the surrounding area and provides an inclusive platform to showcase extraordinary spaces, places and people.

Running over ten days and in conjunction with Heritage Open Days, it is designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission. The initiative provides an annual opportunity for people to discover the local history and heritage of their community.

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