Next time the British Museum, The Tower of London or The National Gallery start boasting about visitor numbers, you should spare a thought for those tasked with luring visitors to East Anglia’s Beacon Hill Fort.
Last year, the British Museum, whose treasures include the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, welcomed 6,701,036 visitors. The National Gallery – which features works by Monet, Rembrandt, van Gogh and da Vinci – received 6,031,574. The Tower of London, England’s most popular paid attraction, drew 2,894,698. And how many of us visited Beacon Hill Fort during that period? Just six. That’s just one every nine weeks, making it – officially – the least popular attraction out of 1,279 places listed by VisitEngland.
Considering the importance of the site (it was one of Britain’s key defences against a possible Nazi invasion and wasn’t decommissioned until the Fifties), and the fact that it costs a modest £1 to enter (the rather grander fortifications on the north bank of the Thames charge a whopping £22) this seems rather unfair. Even the mundane-sounding Pencil Museum in Keswick attracts 80,000 people a year.
Online forums would appear to shed further light on the lack of visitors, however. One user – arturowan – claims on the website virtualtourist.com that, while it was “well worth a visit” – “it ain’t no pleasure park”. Why? “Litter, graffiti, broken glass, dog muck [it’s apparently a popular spot for walkies] and evidence of drug taking”. There’s also the small matter of its opening hours – 2pm till 4pm, one Sunday a month.
VisitEngland’s statistics reveal dozens of other unsung attractions whose visitors numbers are pitifully meagre – though none are quite as neglected as poor Beacon Hill Fort. There’s the North Ings Farm Museum in North Kesteven, specialising in agricultural equipment (total visitors in 2013: 98), Wakefield’s Gissing Centre (dedicated to the woefully underrated, it believes, author George Gissing – total visitors: 118), and Owston Ferry’s Old Smithy and Heritage Centre, where under 15s are charged just 50p (total visitors: 181).
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