European Heritage Open Day 2021

European Heritage Open Day 2021

Date: 06/09/2021 03:24

Each year, European Heritage Open Days offer a chance to explore the rich built environment of Northern Ireland and this year’s European wide theme of “Inclusion – Exploring our hidden history together” is about celebrating inclusiveness and diversity, a chance for everyone to explore the wonderful shared cultural heritage right on our door step. Some of the buildings that open their doors are usually inaccessible at other times of year. As the pandemic continues to disrupt visits to some of these locations, the Digital Film Archive can help to open the doors to many fascinating places through archive film.

As clips like Building Bendhu House show, the archive has the added benefit of time travel, allowing glimpses of familiar landmarks in their formative years.

Archive footage gives access to stately country houses such as Ardress House


and Derrymore House in Co. Armagh, and Springhill House in Co, Londonderry.

It also shows familiar landmarks when they were new, such as the Ulster Bank in Shaftesbury Square and the Ashby Building at Queen’s.

Through the archive it is also possible to trace the changing status of well-known buildings, like Castlewellan Castle, or what is now known as the Titanic Quarter.

In his series A Heritage from Stone, Brian Boyd’s keen eye provides insights into the built environment right across the centuries, while the No Poor Parish series encompasses rural townscapes of Dundrum, Draperstown, Cushendall and Newtownstewart as well as Sailortown in Belfast and it is possible to trace the changes between the time when the programme was made and the present day. 

Meanwhile programmes like the Lesser Spotted Ulster series explore unusual places around the countryside, from traditional buildings to country houses like Castle Leslie.

Moving away from the Scottish Baronial style of some of the big country houses, the Festival of Britain marked a turn towards modernism, celebrating futuristic factory buildings and even an extraordinary model farm, as seen in a Tourist Board film called Family Festival, showing Northern Ireland’s answer to the South Bank development. 

As new housing emerged after WW2, for some new tenants there was optimism, central heating and novelty aplenty, shown in the clip A New Home with Heat

The Housing Trust moved towards high-rise living, as evidenced in this Housing Trust film from the mid-1960s.

The archive reveals how some new residents overcame the challenge of moving day:


Optimism and modern design are evident.


Planners had visions about how the old would make way for the new in places like Lurgan and Portadown, designated -not without controversy- as the location for the new city of Craigavon:

Not everyone wanted to move into these new homes. Some of the residents of California Street were reticent about leaving their own district. 

Housing became a hotly contested political issue in the 1960s, and the Civil Rights movement drew attention to living conditions across Northern Ireland, as reflected in UTV news items -not for the squeamish! 

Moving forward in time, the Troubles had a huge impact on society, leaving scars across the streets and townscapes that have persisted to this day.

Post Good Friday Agreement, local TV programmes about housing became mainstream entertainment, as seen in the Home Sweet Home series, which includes some fascinating buildings such as a circular house in Derrygonnelly built by architect Richard Pierce, inspired by the rich built heritage of the local area.

These clips are just a selection of the ever-expanding range of clips available to view for free via the website, opening doors to the past and providing a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in architecture, heritage, history and the built environment.