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Unlocking the door to region's history; HUNDRED OF HERITAGE SITES OPENING FOR PUBLIC VISITS.

Byline: LINDA RICHARDS

THERE'S no need for a time machine to step into the past.

The annual Heritage Open Days being held this month bring the past to life.

A record-breaking number of attractions are planned from September 10-13 from visits to graveyards and restored water mills to taking a peek at properties which are normally closed to the public.

When the Open Days started in Tyne and Wear in 2002, there were just 84 participating buildings and activities, generating 19,500 visits.

Each year the event has grown to the extent that last year there were 191 buildings open and 46,500 visits.

This year will see 202 attractions on offer plus 99 in Northumberland.

Helping bring history to life is a team of volunteers who lead walks, talks and tours that make the weekend such a hit.

In Gateshead, where there are more than 40 events organised, one volunteer is Christine Hedley, who for around five years has welcomed people to Whitehall Road Methodist Church, where William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army preached.

She said: "The open days give you a chance to share your passion for a building with others.

"You meet so many nice people who might not come into the church were it not for the open days."

Other hidden gems on offer in Gateshead include a walk on the dark side called Coffins, Plagues and Burials, which sheds light on how the poor lived in appalling conditions.

Other attractions include The History of Mayoral Regalia with a behindthe-scenes tour of the Mayor's Parlour; a visit to Stephen's Hall Farm, at Folly, Ryton, an unusual Grade II-listed building; and Winlaton Forge, the 1690's forge which is Winlaton's last surviving forge and last surviving link with the Crowley family who dominated iron manufacturing. In Newcastle, people can wet their whistle on an ale trail - a historic pubs walk from the Monument to High Bridge and from the Bigg Market to the Quayside - and they can visit the Byker redevelopment or learn about The Great Fire of Gateshead and Newcastle of 1854.

For generations the words River Tyne conjured up images of coal, smoke, hard graft and shipbuilding.

Local author Ken Smith talks about the great tradition of shipbuilding in The Lost Shipyards of Walker.

On North Tyneside Backworth Hall, dating from 1780, opens its doors; there will also be a small exhibition in Dial Cottage, the house where George Stephenson lived from 1804 while working as a brakesman at Old Killingworth Colliery, and on St Mary's Lighthouse Shipwreck Walk, people can find out details and the history of the numerous shipwrecks in the area.

In Northumberland, 14th century Bothal Castle, which is rarely open to the public, is featured. Although there is no public entry to the main house, there will be full access to the grounds.

In Born at the Right Time, Billy Mitchell, ex-lead singer of Lindisfarne will entertain with a unique mix of mining songs and comedy and the Rock Art Display at Bedlington Station Library will illustrate the ancient rock art carvings of Northumberland.

To find out more visit www.twhods.

org.uk or pick up a leaflet from your local library.

CAPTION(S):

FLASHBACK: This photo of St Andrew's Church in Lamesley, 1910, is included VISIT: Alex Markham of English Heritage, Northumbria County Council chief executive Steve Stewart, David Lovie of North of England Civic Trust and Isobel Hunter of Northumberland County Council at Bothal Castle
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 2, 2009
Words:576
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