As we roll onwards towards, sssh, September, several Open-House-style festival-event-type things are happening and you might want to plan ahead.
There's Open House itself, of course, London's annual frenzy of door-flinging and architectural reverence. This takes place over the weekend of Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th September, and features the usual list of old favourites, suburban oddities and brand new locations. Where precisely to go can wait a few weeks, but several properties require you to pre-book, which requires action now. The most popular of these required action last week, with booking going live at times you had to be psychic to realise, so you've already missed the chance to go up Tower 42 or see behind the scenes at St Pancras. But for the rest of the pre-bookers, allow me to pass you over to Ian Visits who has a complete list, or you could try checking Eventbrite and see what's left, or (thanks Alasdair!) there's this ridiculously useful unofficial summary where you can scan through all 725 locations and see booking details.
Open House whinges 2016
They've changed the size of the guide, so it's now smaller but heavier. Generally it's easier to read, except they've removed all the useful coloured blobs so it's much harder to tell at a glance which venues open on Saturday, which Sunday and which both. I also pray that one day they'll write the word "pre-book" in a different colour, or in bold, to make the bookable items easier to spot. Not only would this really help in August, but it'd also really help on the day itself so you could swiftly ignore all the listings you hadn't booked for. Peculiarly, if you want to know the date of Open House weekend it's only written on the spine and absolutely nowhere else on any of the 144 pages inside. The first forty-or-so pages are now full of magazine-type articles, which might give you something interesting to read on the tube as you head to your first location, or might just be filler. This year the guide costs £7, plus £2 postage and packing, although according to the back cover the price is £6.99 so I've been swindled out of a penny. The Open House app costs only £2.99, but you don't get it for free if you bought the guide, which always feels a bit mean. Meanwhile all the listings are visible for free on the website, which has had an update this year and is much more mobile-friendly, which alas means laptop-unfriendly, and requires more clicking and scrolling to drill down and excavate all the information.
The week before Open House always sees the Heritage Open Days event, which takes place across the entire country outside London (although a dribble of London venues do take part, plus Kingston-upon-Thames which spends the weekend pretending to be in Surrey). The event runs from Thursday to Sunday, that's 8th-11th September, with the majority of events at the weekend. Again some events need booking in advance and others don't, so it pays to check now. Dorking Caves are already full, for example, whereas the Former Atomic Weapons Bunker in Thetford might still have spaces. Some counties take HOD more seriously than others, so Surrey has 320 events, Norfolk 303, Kent 176 and Essex 125, while Bedfordshire can only muster 13. This page has a useful summary of openings by area. Ian Visits has a selection of favourites and recommendations, if you'd like some guidance on where to start.
That same weekend, you might very well be very interested in the Essex Architecture Weekend, a programme of special events curated by Radical Essex. They're organising events and tours on 10th and 11th September to celebrate the county's pioneering role in twentieth century architecture, with a specific focus on three key modernist estates - Silver End, Bata East Tilbury and Frinton-on-Sea. The main hub is at Silver End, which I visited last month, a factory village with characterful housing, where there'll be walking tours, an exhibition and several talks including a Q&A with Jonathan Meades. The Bata Estate is also fascinating, as I'm sure the guided tours and exhibition will prove. Locations will also include Basildon, Benfleet, Braintree and Burnham-on-Crouch, plus other places that don't begin with B, with a bus service to link various disparate spots to Witham station. It all sounds excellent, although the website is a nightmare to navigate, indeed in my browser it's almost entirely dysfunctional, and without this enormous scrolling pdf timetable I'd be pretty much lost.
Again in Essex, and spreading across the Thames to Kent, I'm looking forward to Estuary 2016. This is a sixteen day festival of art, literature, music and film, from Saturday 17th September to Sunday 2nd October, mostly at weekends. Tilbury Docks is the focus on the first weekend, specifically in and around the Cruise Terminal where (wow) 70 authors and artists are lined up on the programme for the free Shorelines Literature Festival. The following weekend things shift downstream for the Southend Charabanc, described as "cultural pleasure seeking and sight-seeing" along the seafront with vintage Canvey buses to whisk visitors from event to event. On the final weekend Southend Pier hosts Sound of the Thames Delta, two days of talks and live gigs with contributions from Karl Hyde, Paul Morley, Martyn Ware and dozens more (if music's your thing, check the list). Other locations touched across the fortnight include Gravesend, Canvey Island and the Isle ofGrain, plus there are special behind the scenes tours of (major) estuarine port facilities. Blimey, such a lot of stuff.
And let's finish off with Walk London's Autumn Ambles. This year these are pencilled in for Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd October, with 42 free led walks across London, as usual with a few proper treks on the outskirts and several lighter strolls in town. In previous years you could simply turn up, but pre-registration is now required "to improve the experience of walkers and to keep everyone safe". Some walks are extremely popular, so this keeps the numbers manageable, but it also snuffs out all the spontaneity and cuts your options down. Five of the walks are already fully booked, six weeks ahead, while one still has 272 remaining places available. While this system persists, I'm giving it a miss.