The First World War centenary: a round-up of special events

This year many places around the country will be commemorating the centenary of the start of the First World War. Here's your essential guide. 


This year many places around the country will be commemorating the centenary of the start of the First World War.


With events ranging from exhibitions, talks and displays to guided walks and poppy planting, country houses, nature reserves and many other types of sites will be sharing stories of those tied to them who were there on the battlefield and on the home front.

The National Trust have compiled a helpful list of all their First World War events at their places of interest.

We’ve put together some of our favourites from that list, and other events organised by other bodies around the country.

Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire

Both the family and those who worked on this country houses estate were dramatically affected by the First World War. An exhibition will run all year within the house, telling some of the fascinating individual stories of those who left for the front line, as well as those who were left behind.

A series of Brodsworth at War events will run from May to September, as costumed interpreters showcase life at this time.

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire

Castle Howard in Time of War

While generations of Howard sons went to fight overseas the impact of war was often more powerfully felt at home.

Between 1815 and 1944 five Howards were killed in action, and for the family war was a time of anxiety as well as bereavement; this was an experience shared with staff and tenants, many of whom are commemorated on war memorials in estate villages.

Belgian refugees, enemy prisoners, evacuees, fire, and crashed aircraft also meant that the impact of war in both world wars was never far away from Castle Howard. For more information, visit the Castle Howard website.

Dover Castle, Kent

Dover Castle has been a key military fortification for nearly a thousand years. During the First World War, the site housed a garrison, batteries, signal station and command post.

The ‘War and the Horse’ event will take place on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 September.

Dunham Massey is the Stamford Military Hospital

Opens 1 March, 2014, 11am – 5pm

During the First World War, this Georgian house, set in a magnificent deer park, was transformed into the Stamford Military Hospital from 1917 – 1919. It was a sanctuary from the trenches for 282 ‘Tommies’ – the rank and file soldiers who passed through its doors. To commemorate the centenary Dunham Massey has been transformed back into the Stamford Military Hospital and will, for the next two years, offer a unique opportunity to discover what life was like in a military hospital, the stories of  soldiers who stayed there and the three remarkable women who ran the hospital.

Normal admission charges apply.

For more information, please call 0161 941 1025.

Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire

Women and the Great War, 16 May, 7pm – 9pm

Explore an Elizabethan gem in the heart of industrial Lancashire this May. A fascinating presentation based on the new publication ‘Great War Fashion – Tales from the History Wardrobe’ by Lucy Adlington talks about the lives of women during the war, their stories and their clothes which will be on display. This exhibition is moving and amusing, with many anecdotes and a unique display of costumes and uniforms. Signed copies of the ‘Great War Fashion’ will also be available to purchase at this event which is part funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. Ticket price includes refreshments. Booking essential, all Tickets £5

For more information, please call 01282 771004

Goddards, North Yorkshire

The Terry’s and the War, 1 March – 18 June

One hundred years on from the start of the First World War, Goddards is telling the story of how the Terry family and life at their famous chocolate factory were affected by war with new displays throughout the house. The story opens in Noel Terry’s former library and charts the start of the First World War and takes extracts from letters, photographs and mystery items that the men used in the trenches. Discover a poignant collection of stories, loaned items and memories about the Terry family that highlight some of the effects of war on local people.

Goddards is open Wednesdays – Sundays from 1 March.

For more information, please call 01904 771930

Jewish Museum London         

For King and Country? The Jewish Experience of the First World War

Over 50,000 Jewish soldiers fought for Britain during the First World War, sharing in the horror and loss experienced by the whole country. This exhibition, running from 19 March 2014 – 10 August 2014, will explore how war threw into question what it meant to be a British Jew. It will tell the personal stories of why Jewish soldiers decided to serve and of the struggle to keep faith while fighting in the trenches. These stories will be explored within the wider context of divided loyalties, integration and Zionism which were all under debate at the time.

National Army Museum, London

The Armies in 1914

In a series of talks starting on the 15 March, a mix of young and established historians will discuss the latest thinking on this important topic, looking not just at the military of the great powers but that of some of the lesser states as well. The strategic plans, military doctrine, social composition and equipment of the armies in 1914 are just some of the topics scheduled to be placed under the microscope. Please check website for further information.

National Portrait Gallery, London

In Conversation: First World War: The Beginning

On the 13 March, get involved with a Q and A session following a discussion of how Britain became embroiled in the First World War and examine the first few weeks of the fighting, in which the war to end all wars shifted from a rapid and brutal movement to the now familiar image of devastating trench warfare. There will be a Q and A session at the end of the talk.

Visit the National Portrait Gallery website for more information.

National Portrait Gallery, London

In Conversation: Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One

On 20 March 2014, former BBC Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie charts how women’s contributions to the war effort began a seismic move towards equal rights that influenced women’s lives in future generations.

When World War One broke out, a generation of men went off to fight, while women had the opportunity to emerge from the shadows of their domestic lives. Women became a visible force in public life. They began to take up essential roles – from transport to policing, munitions to sport, entertainment, even politics. They had finally become citizens, a recognised part of the war machine, acquiring their own rights and often an independent income.

Registration is required. Please visit the National Portrait Gallery website for more information.

Nostell Priory and Parkland, West Yorkshire

WW1 Allotments, 22 – 23 April, 1pm – 5pm

Visit this grand house built on the site of a medieval priory this Easter holidays to help the property grow its own vegetables. Help the gardeners dig, sow and harvest, and learn more about the vital role the children played at harvest time during the Great War. You can also find out more about your own First World War ancestors with the help of volunteers and the ancestry stations. Read some of the poignant messages visitors to Nostell have left on the meadow wall in the Old Kitchen. The red poppies and white butterflies speak powerfully of the profound sacrifices made by so many during the First World War and you can remember your ancestors with a red poppy or a white butterfly on the commemorative wall.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information, please call 01924 863892

Nostell Priory and Parkland, West Yorkshire

WW1 family history day, Dates: 26 April, 1pm – 5pm

Discover the fascinating war stories of the Winn family of Nostell Priory during this period. The First World War was a time of heroism, sacrifice and scandal for the family and you can discover their story at this treasured house just a few miles from Wakefield. You can also trace your own family’s First World War ancestors and remember them with a red poppy or white butterfly on the commemorative meadow wall.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information, please call 01924 863892

Nymans, West Sussex

World War One at Nymans exhibition, 14 June – 31 August, 10am – 4.30pm

This exhibition will tell the story of the people that called Nymans their home and how the War affected them. From Ludwig Messel who was deeply saddened by the conflict between the two nations he loved to the soldiers in the Buffs, trained by Ludwig’s son Leonard who was unable to join the soldiers on the front line because of his German ancestry. Find out about the letters Leonard received from those who saw combat and why his father Ludwig is said to have died from a broken heart from the conflict.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information, please call 01444 405250

Orford Ness Nature Reserve, Suffolk

Bombs and beasties guided walk, 17 May, 21 June, 12 July, 9 August, 13 September, 10am – 4.30pm

Enjoy a leisurely five mile, all-day walk and talk with a ranger exploring this important nature reserve with a fascinating military history – once a top secret military test site and now a National Nature Reserve. You will get to explore areas not normally open to the public and find out about the top secret experiments conducted at this site across both World Wars and into the nuclear age.

Booking essential: tickets £16 (NT member), £21 (Non-member)

For more information, please call 01394 450900

Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, Cornwall

The formidable stronghold of Pendennis Castle, a key part of the coastal defence strategy, was a manned battery and training centre during the First World War where members of the armed forces were billeted.

A new exhibition scheduled for 2014 will explore the written records of this period, including letters and diaries.

Quarry Bank, Cheshire

Heroes of adventure, 7 June – 16 November, 11am – 4pm

Visit this exhibition which explores Quarry Bank, one of Britain’s great industrial sites, throughout the First World War. Discover stories from the Greg family, the workers, the villagers of Styal, and the Mill itself. With photos, letters, and belongings from the Gregs and the workers, discover more about a story of hope, courage, loss and love.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information, please call 01625 527468

Scarborough Castle, Yorkshire

On 16 December 1914, the bombardment by the German Imperial Navy of the North Yorkshire coast resulted in a number of casualties and fatalities. Among the sites hit by shells was Scarborough Castle, a medieval castle that housed barracks, a fortified gun emplacement, batteries, signal station and command post.

The ‘War and the Horse’ event will take place on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 August. 

Stonehenge Landscape, Wiltshire

Wings over Stonehenge, 19 April, 21 May, 28 June, 23 July, 10.30am – 1pm

Walk in the slipstream of the early pioneer military aviators at Larkhill. You’ll be able to see where the Bristol Boxkite made its first flight in 1910 and where the first British military aeroplane unit was formed in 1911. These walks will cover how aviation developed on Larkhill from 1909-1914 and how the British Expeditionary Force slowed von Kluck’s advance towards Paris. These walks aim to recreate the period with contemporary photographs, maps and include viewing the early hangars and crash sites.

Booking essential, tickets: Adult £5

For more information, please call 01980 664780

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Waddesdon at War, 26 March – 24 October, 12pm – 4pm

Marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, take a look at the nineteenth century French chateau and estate from the perspective of the staff and the family. You can delve into the archives of many personal letters and photographs to learn more about those who went off to war, and those who managed the Manor and estate through the war years. The exhibition explores the impact the war had on the wider Rothschild family.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information, please call 01296 653226

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

This stately home became a convalescent home for wounded and recovering soldiers from the front line.


‘War and the Horse’ will feature at the St George’s Day Festival on 26-27 April, while ‘Wrest at War’ on 25-26 May will dramatically commemorate both the First and the Second World War.