Busy Open Days, a gig at Powderham Castle, and European Researchers Night 2021

Heritage Open Days tend to be one of the busiest times of the year for us – we open for two weekends, entirely for free to the public. It takes a lot of planning, and recruiting and training volunteers to make this possible, so the run-up is generally pretty hectic.

This year, we opened the two-week event with the Lord Mayor’s visit to receive the annual rent: custom has it that the Trust pays the City the rent of a loaf of bread in gratitude for having received the building into their care. We do this annually, and our trustees dress up as Tudor merchants to welcome the Lord Mayor and his or her consort. Tuckers Hall, our close neighbours and fellow Tudor Merchant site in Exeter, sent their representatives to join the celebration, and it’s always a lovely kick-off for Heritage Open Days. With fresh bread and a glass of wine the occasion always drives home how lucky we are to be caretakers of such a wonderful building.

Each year, there is a different theme for Heritage Open Days (or HODs, as we call them). This year’s theme was “Edible England”, and we had Devon & Exeter Medical Heritage Trust supporting us with their wonderful session on herbal remedies: visitors could handle medical instruments and learn about people’s ailments, as well as how those ailments were treated. As trustee director of the medical trust, I get excited when we have the chance to get our medical tools out and show them to our visitors. Let them guess what some of them were used for – not always easy, I assure you.

During the heritage week, our partner organisation, Exeter Community Centre, ran a series of newly scripted and rehearsed walking tours. Thriving Communities Fund has generously supported our partnership to recruit and train new volunteers, and it is gratifying to see the fruits of our labour come to life in this way. These tours are a new way to explore the area, and a great chance for people to connect with their heritage, neighbourhood, and not least neighbours.

Then we followed an invitation to give a talk on Tudor food at Powderham Castle, so off we went to set up in their dining hall. One of the nicest and most impressive places we’ve given a presentation in recent days, and our audience was excited and interested. They engaged with our speaker, Sally Dyer, to learn more about our Tudor cooking sessions at the priory on the second HODs Sunday and later in the year. Sally’s sessions are immensely popular, and I am starting to wonder if we shouldn’t start giving proper workshops. What d’you think?

Following hard on the heels of HODs came an un-looked-for event that was nevertheless much fun to attend. Ever heard of European Researchers Night? Well, it’s a European-funded and Europe-wide project run in Exeter by the University. The concept is to engage the public in original research for a day and a night. Two years ago, a good friend of mine from Uni got in touch with me to tell me about her new job as community outreach lead and to see if we could somehow work together on European Researchers Night. Then the pandemic happened, and that was that. But all the planning was not in vain, and for this year, the team decided to use Maketank on Paris Street as a venue. I was invited along to present and trial our “Hidden Exeter” walking app, which we have been developing together with the University. So Jess, one of our excellent student interns, and I turned up to a lovely and enthusiastic group of people, who we introduced to the app and then sent off to try it out. We are waiting for the survey data to come through, so we can make sure the app hits just the right spot with people. Do trial the current trail yourself – it’s free and very cleverly done. Just download the “Hidden Exeter” app, press play, and enjoy. I’ll be sure to mention the launch of the St Nicholas Priory trail as soon as it is ready for release.

Now I better return to planning our exhibition of original artwork by Sarah Spencer later this month. You’ll have seen her working away at her paintings during our Tudor re-enactment (the young woman in the artist’s hat, ha), and I better have everything ready for her when she’s back from her research trip in Venice (some people have all the luck, don’t you think). I’ll tell you more about this exciting new exhibition in the next instalment.

Until then, stay safe and be in touch, Judith

Dr J Morgane, manager

St Nicholas Priory, Exeter