The Thin End Of The Wedge

Blimey – they slipped that one in quietly. I hadn’t noticed, but then I guess that was the whole idea. It was Dolan who noticed it in the Greenwich Gazette , and the GG only found out because they were expecting foriegn visitors. Yup, folks, from March, we’ll all have to pay a tenner to get through the gates to the Old Royal Observatory, even if we only want to stand with one foot in each hemisphere. Actually, especially if we only want to stand with one foot in each hemisphere, since, I guessing, if they’re honest, that’s all a good 80% of tourists want. 

The National Maritime Museum remains free (understandably; it’s so sparsely populated with objects, no one would pay. There was an article on BBC news the other day about the amount the NMM spend on storage – something I don’t have an issue with at all, it’s all part of the museum-gig – but if they’d just put some stuff on display they might not have to put up with non-stories on slow-news days like that. I note the BBC missed the  real issue about the charges too. We all did. Thank you for noticing,  GG..)

I guess the loophole is that national collections have to be free, but they can charge for special exhibitions. Somebody looked at the figures, realised that every  tourist ever wants that photo, rubbed their hands together and quietly put a little note at the bottom of the page of the times and admissions page. The one consolation is that the fee is for a yearly ticket so if Greenwich Gazette has more than one set of Canadian visitors only their friends will have to pay next time. 

Is this the beginning of the end for free admission to museums in England? Some might say it was coming, given the cuts, and that it might even-things out for the smaller places that aren’t national collections, like the Fan Museum. Others think that since they have to pay to visit museums in other countries, free admission for all makes saps of us. Some think that British people should have some sort of pass that gets them in free, leaving the tourists to pay (the most extreme – and in my view justified in that particular instance – case that I know of is in Rwanda where locals pay $10 to see the gorillas; tourists pay $250. In that case it’s still probably weighted towards the tourists). Most believe that the national collections belong to all, they’re paid for in taxes and should be free to all. 

Thing is, this should not just be about the Observatory, but charging for museums in general. Seems to me that by quietly slipping in through the back door, Britain’s museums are seeking to avoid the bigger debate – should we be paying to get into national collections, and if so, how?

Whatever we think, we have until March to get our hides over to the Observatory one – or six -last times.

13 Comments to “The Thin End Of The Wedge”

  1. [...] noticed by the Greenwich Phantom, whose spectral representative stands next to the Greenwich Observatory, the Observatory will start [...]

  2. Darryl says:

    Back in the 80s, when the NMM charged, you got in for free if you brought in some proof you lived (very) locally (SE10, SE3, SE13, I think). I wonder if there’ll be something similar this time?

    It’s embarrassing to see Greenwich’s institutions going back to their old ways of fleecing tourists.

  3. Steve says:

    That’s a shame but I suppose inevitable in these frugal times. Will Greenwich Council make any fuss over this?

    And it’s a bit of a rip saying the tickets will be for valid for a year as how often will one want to re-visit.

    I would suggest the Observatory ask for donations from visitors but I have no idea how much extra money museums make from such schemes. How generous are people?

  4. Dazza says:

    Not that I’m being cynical or anything, but is this not going to become the norm until about, oh, I don’t know, 2013?
    Not that the idea of an influx of ‘tourist’ that will be expected about Aug 2012 seems like a cash cow come home to roost.
    I wonder what price it will be to visit the Cutty Sark when (if?) it get re-opened?
    But, let’s face it, hotels aren’t going to be charging the same rates as now are they?

  5. MikeM67 says:

    I’ve written to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ask them to clarify how the NMM have managed to circumvent the rules on free access to permanent collections.

    In a letter from Jeremy Hunt to the NMM setting their budget until 2014/15 he expects “that free entry to the permanent collections of the national museums will
    continue to be available”

    I’d suggest that others do the same.

  6. [...] coverage at the Greenwich Gazette, Greenwich Phantom and 853. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share [...]

  7. Plummy Mummy says:

    Whenever I’ve been up to the Observatory, we’ve not be able to get near the line thanks to the hordes of European schools kids standing around.
    I’m waiting for the enterprising local bod who figures out that the hemispheres actually exist outside the forecourt of the observatory, and then sets up a little line for people to jump around on both sides of. Luckily, the green light that we see over Greenwich at night will be useful in finding such spots.

  8. marmoset says:

    The idea of placing a line to mark where the meridian is a convenient heritage story in the first place – the location of the meridian is established primarily by time (ie atomic clocks) which, because of the vagaries of the earth’s rotation, makes the meridian a rather notional idea that shifts from foot to foot from year to year.

    But the Old Brewery sticks 1717 on its logo so it appears like an ”established” date and the Great British Fish Shop or whatever it’s called (the site of the old Cricketers) claims to have been serving fish on that site since 1770.

    The meridian isn’t there, the old brewery and the fish shop date from well after the beginning of this millennium not from the C16. It’s all heritage business which aims to make a profit whether it happens to be at the bottom or the top of the hill, lowbrow or highbrow.

    Cynique, moi?

  9. Geoff says:

    Plummy Mummy – there’s a line of studs in Park Vista outside the Plume of Feathers which I believe does exactly that – or so I’ve believed after a few too many in the Plume!

  10. Stephen says:

    Dazza said.

    “I wonder what price it will be to visit the Cutty Sark when (if?) it get re-opened?”

    I mentioned this recently. It was £5 entry when the ship closed and I said I bet it will be £15 when it reopens.

    Steve said

    “I would suggest the Observatory ask for donations from visitors but I have no idea how much extra money museums make from such schemes. How generous are people?”

    Donation bowls have been in place for quite some time now, as is also the case in the NMM.

    £10 entry is steep but the “Honest” Sausage usually has hordes of tourists who can’t wait to part with their cash for overpriced food and drinks so I don’t think the charge will put many of them off, but entrance should be free for local residents and those in neighbouring boroughs.

  11. Matt says:

    Will there be a discount for Greenwich Card holders?

  12. Darren says:

    I understand its free to friends of the Maritime Museum and all the collection in the new galleries will be free to all.

    Has to be said most locals I know don’t bother with the queue for the meridian line!

  13. Stephen says:

    “An adult ticket will cost £10. Tickets for concessions and pre-booked groups will cost £7.50. Children of 15 and under will be free. In each case, tickets will also be an annual pass so that local and UK visitors in particular will be able to visit as many times as they like during the year for no additional charge.”