Residents and visitors of Henley got the opportunity last week to see and learn about Henley’s history as some of the town’s iconic buildings along with the River & Rowing Museum opened their doors for the national initiative Heritage Open Days.
Henley Mayor, Councillor Sarah Miller welcomed visitors to a tour of the Town Hall including the Mayor’s parlour. Visitors could view original paintings by John Piper, special gifted artefacts, regalia including a 19th century wig, plaques and old furniture and could learn about the building’s history and how the Town Council use it today. The Town Council’s Coat of Arms which normally hangs high above on the front of the building has recently been renovated was on display inside allowing visitors to see it up close for the first time. Henley resident David who was visiting said, “I’ve lived here 9 years and this is a good opportunity to see things you can’t normally see especially the John Piper paintings. Roger who moved to Henley last year from Stratford Upon Avon added, “It’s great to have the chance to look inside the Town Hall for the first time.”
At The Relais at the The Red Lion, visitors had the rare opportunity to see the rare Kings Charles I Royal Coat of Arms painting which has been renovated and preserved in Room 108. King Charles I stopped at The Red Lion on his way from London to Oxford in 1632, and again in 1642 with Prince Rupert, during the English Civil War. Hotel Manager, Craig Sands said, “Our recent Heritage Open Day was a resounding success, and it truly warmed our hearts to see our guests immersed in the rich history and timeless charm of our hotel. It’s a testament to our commitment to preserving and sharing our heritage. We’re delighted to have provided an experience that resonates with our guests and keeps our storied past alive.”
Throughout the weekend, entry was free to the River & Rowing Museum who offered tours highlighting the fascinating objects on display.
Thames Lodge, home to Henley Freemasons was open again to the public this year after opening for the Heritage Open Days in 2022 for the first time. Thames Lodge in Henley on Thames is the oldest Masonic order in Henley and was established in 1881. A purpose-built hall was built on the Reading Road in 1890 on a site given by prominent Freemason, W. D. Mackenzie, over 140 years ago, and stands today, where all new and existing members own the building. Henley Freemason, Geoff Walsh said, “We had 150 people visit over the weekend despite the horrible weather. They came from far and wide including families with children who we gave free teddies too. Several came off boats and from the caravan sites who were visiting and saw the details on the Heritage UK website. We had lots of people interested people in joining the Freemason including 12 women who we’ve directed to the nearest lodge in Wokingham. It was a really super weekend with lots of people just curious to see what it is like inside a Freemason lodge. We will definitely open again next year.”
Local resident Richard Pinches and volunteer at the River & Rowing Museum dressed up at the Town Hall as General Charles-Francois Dumouriez and a 17th century character at the Museum. Charles-Francois was a French General who won victories for the French Revolution in 1792–93 and then during Napoleon’s reign as First Consul he traitorously deserted to Britain and lived handsomely until his death on fat pension in exchange for French military information, in Turville Park. He is buried in St Mary’s Church.