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Roman fort and immersive LGBTQ+ show among winners of UK heritage prizes


A Roman fort in Cumbria has been named the best family day out, as part of the annual UK Heritage Awards. Birdoswald fort and visitor centre, a popular starting point for walks along Hadrian’s Wall, was praised for its activities – ranging from rebuilding a replica Roman archway to a digital quiz. Judges said the site was “hands on and interactive … accessible, and allows people of all ages to engage”.

The annual awards celebrate the best historic houses, gardens, museums and sites around the UK across 12 categories, including hidden gems, must-sees, heritage development, and places to stay. Awards also included the Contribution to Heritage prize, which went to English Heritage’s Speaking with Shadows podcast. Focusing on underrepresented stories , each episode uses an English Heritage site as a starting point to explore wider issues, such as race, gender, class, sexuality or politics.

The award for Best Event, Festival or Exhibition, went to Our House, an immersive site-specific performance exploring LGBTQ+ heritage and the history of Eltham Palace in south-east London, where it was performed. Part of Shout Out Loud, English Heritage’s national youth engagement programme, the performance was created and managed by 30 12-to 25-year-olds, who worked with historians, musicians, directors, writers, and welcomed an audience of more than 500 people in September 2019.

Performers of Our House, an immersive site-specific performance exploring LGBTQ+ heritage and the history of Eltham Palace in south-east London
Performers of Our House, which won Best Event, Festival or Exhibition

The volunteer-led Accessing Aidan Project in Northumberland, won the Hidden Gem award. It was praised for “furthering science and education” and mixing digital elements with archaeology. In 2016, the group created a new ossuary in the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, in Bamburgh, to house the remains of 110 Anglo-Saxons, previously excavated from the sand dunes close to Bamburgh Castle. Thought to date from AD650, the remains are likely to belong to early Christian converts.

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Restored wartime intelligence hub Bletchley Park, in Milton Keynes, and its exhibitions telling the story of second world war codebreaking, scooped the Must Visit award and the Judges’ Discretionary Award of Best in Heritage. With the 75th anniversary of D-day in 2020, judges felt it was a “perfectly pitched entry for this category … a valuable piece of our history that really is a must-see”.

The Most Improved Heritage Development award went to Winchester Cathedral, for its new three-level exhibition space, home to Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation, exploring 1,000 years of history. High-end holiday rental and retreat centre Broughton Hall in North Yorkshire won the Wonderful Places to Stay award, as one of the only exclusive-use historic houses in the UK.

Broughton Hall
Broughton Hall – Wonderful Places to Stay winner. Photograph: Simon Jauncey

The Great Places to Eat award went to Levens Kitchen in Kendal, Cumbria, praised for being built from sustainable materials and being sensitive to the historic surroundings. Askham Hall, in Penrith, a 13th-century Grade-I listed pele tower house turned restaurant with rooms, was also highly-commended in this category.

The awards, which between 2011 and 2018 were called the Hudson’s Heritage Awards, are organised by destination marketing company and guidebook publisher Visit Heritage. This year’s judging panel included Paul Bridle, director of Visit Heritage; Lizzie Glithero-West, chief executive of the Heritage Alliance; Annie Reilly, manager of Heritage Open Days for the National Trust; and architectural historian and author Jeremy Musson.

Submissions are already being accepted for the 2021 awards, which are free to enter for any UK heritage site or property open to the public. Contact info@visitheritage.co.uk for more information.

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