diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's that time of year again when Visit England release their list of England's most visited tourist attractions. And it's also the time when lots of media organisations leap on that list and announce it as gospel, without reading the smallprint. In particular, the survey these numbers come from has a response rate of only 26%, and the figures aren't checked. The list is unverified and incomplete. There's no London Eye, for example, nor Madame Tussaud's, nor Buckingham Palace, nor Whitewebbs Museum of Transport. But it's still very interesting to see roughly who's getting how many visitors, so I've rejigged all the statistics into this grouped list.
Visitor attractions, London - number of visitors, 2010

Over 5 million visitors: British Museum, Tate Modern
2-5 million: National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Tower of London
1-2 million: St Paul's Cathedral, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Royal Observatory Greenwich, British Library, Westminster Abbey, Old Royal Naval College, Kew Gardens, Imperial War Museum, London Zoo

500,000-1 million: Houses of Parliament, National Maritime Museum, Horniman Museum and Gardens, Hampton Court
200,000-500,000: Tower Bridge Exhibition, Museum of London, Museum of Childhood, Cabinet War Rooms, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London Transport Museum, RAF Museum, Kensington Palace, HMS Belfast, Monument
100,000-200,000: Courtauld Gallery, Southwark Cathedral, Museum in Docklands, Geffrye Museum

50,000-100,000: Ham House, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, Household Cavalry Museum, Eltham Palace, Down House
20,000-50,000: Apsley House, Deen City Farm, Forty Hall, Wellington Arch, Spitalfields City Farm, Cartoon Museum, Cuming Museum, Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, Old Operating Theatre, Chislehurst Caves, Wesley's Chapel
10,000-20,000: Chiswick House, Fenton House, Jewel Tower, Kenwood House, Sutton House, Brunel Engine House, Burgh House, Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Fulham Palace, Thames Chase Forest Centre

5000-10000: 2 Willow Road, Marble Hill House, Church Farmhouse Museum, Richmond Museum
1000-5000: Rainham Hall, Upminster Windmill, College of Arms, St Bartholomew's Museum, Wimbledon Museum, Wimbledon Windmill, Savoy Chapel, Marx Memorial Library
less than 1000: Roman Bath, Carew Manor, Carshalton House
I don't know about you, but I'm most interested in the bottom of the list, not the top. What are these visitor attractions which attract fewer than 1000 people a year - that's an average of barely three visitors a day? Here's my heads-up on London's three least-visited attractions - or at least the three lowest with the guts to admit their minimal annual attendance figures in public.

3rd lowest - Roman Bath (860 visitors): If you've never noticed London's Roman Bath, you'd not be alone. It's located up some steps through a passage on Strand Lane, approximately behind the old Aldwych tube station, and not somewhere you'd ever think to go by accident. It's quite small, quite confined, and fed by a natural spring. It's owned by the National Trust and operated by Westminster Council. And it's almost certainly not Roman, more likely Tudor. Anyone can peer through a grille in the street and look in, but if you want to gain entrance it's only open on Wednesday afternoons, from April to September, by appointment only. By my calculations that's ten visitors an hour, which isn't too bad really.

2nd lowest - Carew Manor (166 visitors): It's in Beddington, if that helps you place it, which is in Sutton, if that helps more. A Grade I listed former country house, the mansion is now a school, with Tudor hammerbeam roof in the Great Hall and a rare 18th century brick dovecote in the grounds. The reason for its very-low visitor numbers is that Sutton Council only run tours four days a year, on certain Sunday afternoons, twice a day. By my calculations that's twenty visitors per tour, which isn't too bad really. The next one's on 25th September, if you're interested, and will set you back £4.

lowest - Carshalton House (42 visitors): Still in Sutton, this 17th century mansion is officially London's least visited tourist attraction. 42 visitors is all it attracts on its single open day each year - which is, if I read the website correctly, on the last Sunday in May. However the building is visited by hundreds of schoolgirls daily, because it's the home of St Philomena's RC High School, plus there's a rather more visitworthy Water Tower in the grounds. And Carshalton House isn't as unpopular as England's least visited tourist attraction - the two-cell Cirencester Lock-Up, which accumulated only five visitors last year. That's despite being open every weekday from 9am to 5pm, if only anyone could be bothered to collect the key from the council offices, which it seems barely anybody could. The British Museum is a million times more popular. Let's hope 2011 sees greater interest.

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