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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 11:49 GMT
Thousands flock to UK museums
A young visitor enjoys the robot dinosaurs exhibit
Natural History Museum: Among those offering free entry
Thousands of visitors have poured into Britain's top museums over the weekend after entrance fees were scrapped.

The introduction of free entry had been hailed as "a red letter day for our cultural heritage" by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell who launched the scheme.

Antony Fenwick, from the Science Museum, said a large number of people had visited the attraction in South Kensington, London.

"We have seen considerable increases in numbers, which we're delighted about."

Tessa Jowell: Red letter day for cultural heritage
Tessa Jowell: Red letter day for cultural heritage

The nearby Natural History Museum said about 10,000 people had passed through its doors on Sunday which compared well with the large crowds which flocked to see its Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibition earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for the attraction added: "It's been very busy and we're very pleased with the attendance."

The National Railway Museum in York told BBC News Online attendances were up by 121% from the same weekend last year.

Its spokeswoman said: "We are delighted and very pleased that the message has got out about the scrapping of entrance fees.

London's Natural History Museum saw a big increase in visitors
Natural History Museum saw a big increase in visitors
"We hope more and more people will be coming to the museum."

Claire Rider from the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, told BBC News Online the weekend's attendances were higher than this time last year.

"Our eight venues were busier than normal," she said. "The Maritime Museum saw a lot of new visitors to the site, which is wonderful.

"The atmosphere was very good and people were very positive."

'Warm'

Another London attraction, the Victoria & Albert Museum, saw its visitor numbers to the museum more than double in the first week of free admission .

The V&A was visited by about 55,000, compared to the average crowd of 20,000 since axing charges from 22 November.

The museum's director, Mark Jones, said: "The public's response to the opening of the British Galleries and the introduction of free admission has been very warm.

"People are eager to see the new displays and welcome the fact that they can now come in whenever they want, without paying, to enjoy all the museum has to offer."

Final stage

Among the museums now free to visit are the Imperial War Museum and the National Maritime Museum in London.

Entrance charges have also been scrapped at attractions including the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.

The decision to introduce free entry follows tax changes in the last Budget - which allow free museums to reclaim VAT.

The move is the final stage in the government's scheme to introduce universal free admission to museums in Britain.

In Wales, leading museums and galleries scrapped admission charges in April, and the Scottish Executive also cut some entrance fees earlier this year.

'Welcome'

As a further incentive museums and galleries sponsored by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be given an extra 10m investment to help fund capital projects such as disabled access, Ms Jowell announced.

Many of the museums had already offered free access to children and the over 60s. This has boosted visited numbers by nearly 20% for children and the by 40% for the over 60s.

Sir Neil Chalmers, director of the Natural History Museum said: "I welcome the government's emphasis on widening access for visitors to museums, and am keen to continue attracting as diverse a mix of visitors as possible."

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Arts
Behind the museum doors
08 Nov 01 | Arts
Museums turn on government
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Museums and galleries will be free
01 Apr 01 | Wales
Museums launch free entry
23 Nov 01 | Newsmakers
The V & A: Designer makeover
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Museums scrap entrance charges
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