Heritage Open Days 2021

I really like Heritage Open Days, the national, annual event that opens up places that you wouldn’t otherwise get access to. In previous years I’ve managed to visit the store room of Reading museum and Reading Abbey before it was reopened.

There are always interesting places to visit, exhibitions and talks laid on all giving a fascinating insight to our local history. Here’s where we managed to visit this year.

Reading Wind Turbine

You can go and stand at the bottom of the wind turbine (an Enercon e70) in Green Park at any time but it is only during the Heritage Open Days that you can get a talk about it too (unless you are at school!). It is while there that you can learn some fascinating facts such as:

  • It’s 85m tall and made of steel
  • The carbon fibre blades are 35m
  • It weighs 300 tons
  • It’s designed to withstand 120mph winds
  • It was built in 5 days in 2005, cost £2.8m and paid for itself in six years
  • It generates enough electricity to power 1200 homes equivalent a year and 75% is used within a 2 mile radius
  • 2m/s (4mph) windspeed will turn the blades and it will generate in speeds up-to 32m/s (67mph) max speed. Its only had speeds > than 67mph three times in its life.

It was interesting to hear that there are also plans for a second one just a bit further up in the same park – certainly visible from the M4.

The Last Gasometer and Reading’s Changing Skyline

The Riverside Museum at Blake’s Lock is a tiny place next to one of our favourite restaurants. The museum is an offshoot of the main Reading musem and for the open days was running a special exhibition centered around the gasometer which you can see from the windows of the museum.

The gasometer, like so many others, is no longer in use and is due to be taken down at some point and so the exhibition was artwork that reflected the changing skyline, although, in fact, most pictures included the gasometer. There were probably no more than twenty pieces of art on show there, most of which were paintings of some description. I particularly liked the pictures on glass shown below. Pity we don’t have room for it in the house as it, like all the pieces, were on sale.

RISC Roof Garden

I’ve known about the Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) shop for a long time. We’ve been in there on a number of occasions to pick up some unusual object as a present. What most people aren’t aware of is that above the shop, on its flat roof, is a garden. Not normally open to the public it is for Heritage Open Days. I’ve been meaning to go for a number of year and this year finally made it.

The area up there isn’t huge but a winding path through a number of trees makes it seem as if it could go on forever. It’s amazing that the roof can take the weight of all the plants and the 30cms of soil to sustain them but clearly it can.

It was interesting to see what can be done in an urban environment and would be good to see more of this in other places too.

St Mary’s Episcopal Chapel

The final visit was to a church that I have passed so many times during my years in Reading, mainly on the way to the Sweeney and Todd pie shop.

The front to the church is very distinctive as it looks very much like a Greek temple complete with Doric columns. Inside is a much more plain affair. As you can see from the picture below there are row upon row of box pews. It didn’t look very hospitable to me and maybe that’s the point I don’t know.

I hadn’t realised that the church is actually built on the site of the former Reading Gaol and the oubliette associated with it was still there in one corner. Maybe they threaten the parishioners with it if they don’t pray hard enough? Not that they get many these days. The chapel can hold 1,000 people in it’s many pews over two floors but these days it seems they are lucky to reach 100.

Four very different and interesting visits and there was so much more on that we didn’t have time to do. In keeping with the times a number of these were online including a walking tour that you could download and do at your own pace. I look forward to next year’s offerings with anticipation.