skip to content

Hidden gems revealed as city and county throw open their doors

Discover things you didn’t know about Cambridge and Cambridgeshire as the region’s largest annual festival of history and culture, Open Cambridge, prepares to welcome visitors between Friday 9 and Sunday 18 September.

Part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme, Open Cambridge offers everyone, locals and visitors, a chance to see a different side to the city and areas within the county from Huntingdon and Peterborough to St Neots and Papworth. Several of the events include places that aren’t normally open to the public and the opportunity to try out new things. With over 90 free events, there is bound to be something that suits all ages and tastes.

Due to the immense popularity of Open Cambridge, some events have already ‘sold out’. However, there are still plenty that have spaces and, of course, lots of drop-in events to keep history buffs and culture lovers busy during the festival period.

The following is a small flavour of what’s on offer during the 10-day festival period.

For some folk tours around cemeteries might sound a bit scary. Not so with the Cambridge American Cemetery in Madingley who are hosting a range of fascinating tours with lots of time slots available. The first set of tours investigates the cutting-edge tools used in 21st Century groundskeeping – crucial knowledge to acquire as we all bemoan the current state of our gardens. The second set of tours focus on how the astounding inventions and scientific discoveries from WW11 have drastically reshaped our world today.

Sticking with astounding inventions, which happens to be this year’s Heritage Open Days theme, it might still surprise some people to know that the creation of the modern-day laws of football took place on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge. Nigel Fenner (who played football for both Arsenal Youth, and Cambridge University) gives a talk, followed by questions at the Cambridge United Supporters Club, where the history of Cambridge United FC can also be explored in the small museum located there.

Going back further in time, take an utterly fascinating peek at those historical books that were deemed to endanger faith and morality of the reader during the Whipple Library’s exhibition of banned books, part of their rare books collection.  

Another absolutely must-see exhibition is the tour with the conservators of the Cambridge University Library’s Darwin in Conversation exhibition. The tour includes an exclusive visit to the Library’s Conservation Studio where you’ll get to see more items from the Darwin Archive and find out about the conservation treatments used.

Local history buffs can rejoice with the next event as they take a stroll down Mill Road with public historian Professor Helen Weinstein. The 90-minute history tour starts at the former Mill Road Library on the corner of Mill Road and Headly Street and ends at the Geldart pub on the corner of Ainsworth Street and Sleaford Street. Offering an insight into the working lives of the people of the area known in Victorian times as 'Sturton Town', the tour features the local businesses of the Headly Iron Foundry and the Coprolite Mill, Sarah Scarr 's dressmaking shop, Hannah Laurie's Laundry, the Sturton Town Brewery, the Co-Op Dairy and Abattoir, Henry Cable's Bakery, and the numerous pubs of the area no longer extant.

Cambridge has never had a shortage of extraordinary people (unknown to many) who have had a huge impact on the city and the world. One such person is Dr Dorothy Moyle Needham FRS (1896-1987), a pioneering female biochemist, who also played a significant role in Sino-British scientific and cultural relations during WW11 and in the first three decades of the People’s Republic of China. Her achievements are celebrated during a one-hour talk by Dr Gordon Barrett (University of Oxford), an exhibition of items from the Needham Research Institute archive and a tour of the Institute founded by her husband, Dr Joseph Needham.

And finally, everyone aged 18 - 30 is invited to an evening of discovery and entertainment during OrigiNation: Cambridge celebrates invention at the Cambridge Museum of Technology. The fun-packed event, which celebrates the collaborative spirit of inventors and creatives, includes a bookable, guided tour of the Museum and a pub quiz with added team challenges, while enjoying food and drinks from the OtherSyde bar. There is also a prize for the winning team!

A few other unmissable events include:

  • Kill or cure – a showcase of 36 contemporary artworks and two displays across a range of media – digital art, video, painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and collage. This Wolfson College exhibition of international artists explores how some substances and properties can literally kill or cure.
  • Dust or Butterflies: Artist’s Talk by Yorgos Petrou – visual artist Yorgos Petrou presents their process on their new film "Dust or Butterflies", a creative exploration of life as a migrant in the UK. Dust or Butterflies is an ongoing experimental art project, a collaboration with the Fitzwilliam’s #BeingAnIslander project, devised with queer migrants from Cyprus, Palestine, and Egypt, former British colonies in the Southwest Asia North Africa (SWANA) region.
  • Innovation & invention across the centuries – Cambridge University Library’s rich special collections reveal much about human ingenuity and invention over the centuries. Find out more during this spectacular drop-in exhibition.

Speaking ahead of the launch next Friday, Open Cambridge Coordinator Hannah Jackson said: “The history, heritage and culture of a place are what makes us who we are. I’m delighted that this year’s Open Cambridge programme offers a fabulous showcase of our city and county. I’m also really looking forward to welcoming everyone next week to these events, which, very importantly, are all completely free. Despite the current financial situation affecting most of us, Open Cambridge offers everyone the opportunity to still have fun and explore our wonderful city and county for free.”

Open Cambridge is brought to you by the University of Cambridge’s Public Engagement team.

For further information and to browse the full programme, visit the website here.

Keep up to date with the Festival: Twitter: @OpenCambridgeUK | Instagram: @CamUniFestivals | Facebook: CambridgeFestival | Sign up to our monthly What's On newsletter to keep up to date with events from the University of Cambridge.

Press contact: Becky Mann | | 07739 131820