Behind closed doors: eight of East Anglia’s secret heritage sites to discover

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Words by Joe Bannister

Heritage Open Days is celebrating its 25th anniversary and promises to be more spectacular than ever. This annual event, which this year is taking place between 13 and 22 September, gives visitors the opportunity to explore places not normally open to the public.

Read on for some of the places across the network that will be throwing open their doors during the 10-day festival of history and culture.

Essex Police Museum, Chelmsford

Over-18s are invited to go on a tour of this fascinating museum, which tells the story of police in Essex from the Victoria era to the present day. Learn more about what happens both backstage at a museum and behind the closed doors of a police headquarters with tours of the museum collection, including access to items usually not seen by the public.

There will also be the opportunity to try on a real uniform and take your fingerprints. Tours take place on Saturday 14 and Saturday 21 September and must be booked.

Nearest station: Chelmsford

Dr Johnson’s House, London

Lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson lived in 17 Gough Square in the heart of the City of London for much of the time he was creating the first dictionary of the English language – he had to move there in order to cut costs by being closer to his printer William Strahan. Upon the departure of Dr Johnson, the building was used for a variety of purposes including a printing house during the 19th century.

Even without the Johnson connection, 17 Gough Square is an important and extremely rare example of a 17th-century house still standing in the City – most have long since been cleared. Sunday 15 September will see this extraordinary building opened to the public and hosting a series of family-friendly events including tours of the building, and the chance to don Georgian costumes and look at the famous dictionary in the garret where it was written.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

Dr Johnson's house

The Admiral’s House, Ipswich

Now the home of the Ipswich Institute Reading Room and Library, this heritage building was probably built during the reign of Charles II and also has some fine Georgian features.

Between Friday 13 and Sunday 15 September you can have a look around the interior and hear the echoes of its previous inhabitants, which include Admiral Benjamin Page and local architect John Shewell Corder.

Nearest station: Ipswich

Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge

Nestled within Cambridge University’s Botanic Gardens, the Sainsbury Laboratory is offering you the chance to experience ‘an hour in the life of a scientist’ on 14 September.

In a series of bookable one-hour tours suitable for those aged 14 and over, you’ll meet leading experts who will demonstrate their work and research. You’ll also be invited to use the state-of-the-art facilities – under close supervision! – and delve into the botanic research undertaken daily at this leading lab.

Nearest station: Cambridge

Sainsbury Laboratory

St Peter’s Hungate Church, Norwich

Set in the medieval church of St Peter’s Hungate, artists Laura Bygrave and Alida Kuzemczak-Sayer will be hosting a day of family-friendly activities inspired by their sculptural exhibition Sacred and/or Secular.

Take part in a workshop and contribute to a collage that’s inspired by the artwork on show and the medieval surroundings, which include stained-glass windows with fragments of the original 15th-century glass.

Nearest station: Norwich

Hollytrees Museum, Colchester

This well-preserved house in the heart of Colchester’s Castle Park was built in 1719 for wealthy widow Elizabeth Cornelisen, and later became the home of 18th-century MP Charles Gray.

It’s been a museum of family life and childhood since 1929, with displays including the original version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, written by Jane Taylor in Colchester in 1806. On 15 September you can meet costumed re-enactor Mrs Sibylla Round, who will be showing you around her Victorian home.

Nearest station: Colchester

Hollytrees Museum

Martello Tower P, Felixstowe

Part of the chain of towers built to defend England from attack during the Napoleonic Wars, Martello Tower P in Felixstowe has been in continuous use since its completion in 1812 and is now used as a Coastwatch station.

Climb to the top and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views over the town and sea, and can learn about the history of the tower through the centuries, which includes service during the Cold War. The tower will be open on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September, with tours taking place every 30 minutes.

Nearest station: Felixstowe

Martello Tower P

Diss Heritage Transport Fayre

Petrolheads will love this event, which provides the chance to view a fascinating collection of vintage cars, motorcycles and vans, all parked around the marketplace of this historic Norfolk town.

Owners will be on hand to talk about their classic vehicles and, in addition to the exhibits, there will be music and a barbecue to enjoy. Keep your eyes open for a 1906 Astahl, the world’s oldest car and the only known example of this model.

Nearest station: Diss