English Heritage saw a boom in visitor numbers to its smaller, more local sites in 2021, with several reporting their best years since records began. Many of our hidden local gems, situated away from traditional tourist destinations, saw visitor numbers rocket by up to 82% in comparison to pre-pandemic 2019 – in a clear indication that the public took advantage of the ‘stay at home’ mandate to rediscover the heritage on their doorstep.
Perhaps thanks to its high media profile over the past 18 months, Barnard Castle in County Durham had its best ever year in 2021, with visitor numbers to the picturesque fortress up by almost 20% in comparison to 2019. Boscobel House, where Charles II famously hid from Cromwell’s soldiers in an oak tree, also had its best ever year, with visitor numbers increasing by a huge 82% in comparison to 2019 following a relaunch of the Shropshire site. Meanwhile, several lesser-known historic attractions in North Yorkshire clocked up their highest visitor numbers in over a decade, including Kirkham Priory (up 75% on 2019), and Pickering Castle (up 30% on 2019).
Kate Mavor, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said:
“At English Heritage, we look after over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites across the country – many of which attract visitors from far and wide. In the past, those lesser known, more intimate local sites in our care have often been overlooked in favour of our more iconic ones, despite having just as rich and important a history. This has been a long and hard pandemic but one silver lining appears to be that with people staying closer to home, they have discovered historic places nearby.
“We also saw last year, once our sites had re-opened after lockdown, a surge in people joining English Heritage as Members. And it’s these Members who account for more than half of those bumper visitor numbers at local sites. People fell in love with their local heritage and as English Heritage Members they were able to enjoy our sites for free.”