England's largest celebration of the nation's history and heritage, Heritage Open Days, is back this weekend, with a packed programme of online and in-person events.

From Friday 11th to Sunday 20th September, you'll have a rare chance to go behind-the-scenes, explore hidden places and try new experiences - all free of charge!

There will be 5,500 events across the country, and 24 in Staffordshire alone.

Here are five to whet your appetite.

Battle of Britain Anniversary, Potteries Museum

Mark the 80th anniversary of Battle of Britain Day, and pay tribute to one of Stoke-on-Trent's unsung heroes, in this virtual event from the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Considered the turning point of World War Two, Battle of Britain Day took place on 15th September 1940. It saw 1500 aircraft involved in a large scale aerial battle over London, between the Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe.

The RAF defeated the Luftwaffe, with the help of the Supermarine Spitfire, the fighter plane designed by Stoke-on-Trent engineer Reginald Mitchell, whose work will also be commemorated in this HOD virtual tour.

Alongside a film re-creation of Battle of Britain Day, the tour will feature information on the restoration of Stoke-on-Trent's Spitfire, and an update on the progress of the new Spitfire gallery, due to open at the Potteries Museum in May 2021.

The tour will be available to download from 11th-20th September. To register, email ray.johnson@filmarchive.org.uk.

Image: Ray Johnson

Open Day, Claymills Victorian Pumping Station

Enjoy a revealing tour of the Claymills Victorian Pumping Station, near Burton, on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September.

Reopening for static viewing for the first time since the Coronavirus lockdown, this fascinating museum features a host of restored steam engines which were used to pump sewage and improve sanitation in Burton in the 19th Century.

Promising to offer an eye-opening insight into life in the 1800s, these guided tours will be available at 11am and 1pm on both days.

There will also be a video exhibition on the history of the site.

Numbers are limited to no more than eight on each tour, while other restrictions will be in place to adhere to local and national public health guidelines.

Booking in advance is essential. Contact 01283 509929 to reserve your place.

Image: Liam Mewis

Staffordshire's Lost Pyramid, Sandon Limekiln

See the hidden facade and learn more about Sandon Limekiln, Staffordshire's Lost Pyramid, on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September.

This unusual structure, nestling beside the Trent & Mersey Canal in Sandon, near Stafford, was lost in the undergrowth for many years, until it was discovered and restored in the late 20th Century.

Built around 1790, it was used for burning lime and calcifying flint for local agriculture and the North Staffordshire pottery industry, before the advent of larger, steam-powered mills rendered it obsolete.

The site will be open between 12.30 and 4.30 on the 12th and 13th September. Booking in advance is not required.

Image: Marianne Wakeling

Walk and Talk, Cannock Chase War Cemetery

Learn about the graves and memorials at the Cannock Chase War Cemetery and German Military Cemetery on Friday 18th and Saturday 19th September.

This guided walk, at 11am on Friday 18th and 11am and 2pm on Saturday 19th, takes 90 minutes and will tell the story of Cannock Chase's role in World War One.

Afterwards, there's an opportunity to discover more about the German and Austrian casualties, and the vital work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, both locally and around the world.

Places for the talk must be pre-booked, and are limited to five per session. Book your place at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heritage-open-days-cannock-war-graves-walk-tickets-117617131005

Bottle Oven Facts, across Stoke-on-Trent

Explore the 27 bottle ovens in Stoke-on-Trent, with the help of the Potteries Heritage Society, on this smartphone tour created for Heritage Open Days.

There were more than 4,000 of these iconic ovens on the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the heyday of the pottery industry, but there are now fewer than 50.

For HOD, each of the sites will have a special branded sign with a QR code, which when scanned will reveal more than 40 pages of Bottle Oven Facts, including the locations and types of ovens.

No booking is required, and the tour is available at any time.

The trail stretches from Moorland Pottery in the north of the city, to Heron Cross Pottery in the south.

Many of the sites are accessible from nearby canals, and a number of walks and bike rides connecting them have also been organised for Heritage Open Days.

Details are available on the Heritage Open Days website.

Image: Potteries Heritage Society

More things to do in Staffordshire for Heritage Open Days

Other Heritage Open Days activities in Staffordshire include the hidden nature digital art exhibition at Ingestre Orangery, near Stafford, and a self-guided walking tour at the Etruria Industrial Museum, Stoke-on-Trent.

For more information, and full listings of things to do across the country, visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk.

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