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Monday, August 30, 1999 Published at 00:36 GMT 01:36 UK


Castle fires up tourists

Windsor Castle: A major attraction for visitors

Visitors flocking to see the post-fire restoration of Windsor Castle helped swell tourist spending at historic properties in England to an all-time high last year.

The Royal castle in Berkshire, badly damaged by a huge blaze in 1992, attracted nearly 1.5m visitors in 1998 - a 32% rise on the 1997 total.

[ image: It took years to repair the damage caused by the blaze]
It took years to repair the damage caused by the blaze

The BBC's Lindsay Marnoch: "The Tower of London captured the largest number of visitors"
Spending by visitors at England's historic properties increased 4% last year to a record £270m, the English Tourism Council said.

The rise took place despite a 1% decrease in visitor numbers to 70m.

Among properties where numbers dipped were Canterbury Cathedral (down 7%), Hampton Court Palace (down 6%) and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (down 6%).

Numbers dip

The council's heritage monitor revealed there were 57 historic properties in England which attracted more than 200,000 visits last year.

Of these, 31 charged admission and 26 were free.

The most popular admission-charging property was the Tower of London, with more than 2.55m visitors, although this represented a 1% drop on the 1997 total.

St Paul's Cathedral attracted more than 964,000 visitors in 1998 - a 14% rise on the previous year's figure.

[ image: Visitors have been flocking to see the craftsmen's handiwork]
Visitors have been flocking to see the craftsmen's handiwork
There were also healthy rises in numbers visiting the Cabinet War Rooms in London (up 9%), Stonehenge (up 6%) and Buckingham Palace, where visitor numbers rose 5% to more than 328,000.

Among paid attractions where tourist numbers slumped last year were Hever Castle in Kent (down 10%), Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire (down 9%), and Leeds Castle in Kent (down 7%).

Overall, Historic Royal Palace visits increased 1% while National Trust property numbers were down 3%, English Heritage properties had a 2% fall and private and local authority-owned properties were down 1%.

"The poor summer of 1998, the strong pound and the football World Cup led to this slight downturn in visitor numbers," said the council's acting chief executive Elaine Noble.

Properties declining

A separate report by the Policy Studies Institute has revealed that the number of historic buildings open to the public in England is declining for the first time in 20 years.

[ image: Visitor numbers were up 5% at Buckingham Palace]
Visitor numbers were up 5% at Buckingham Palace
The report found that 2,001 historic buildings and ancient monuments were known to be open to the public in England in 1998, compared to 2,013 in 1997 and 2,017 in 1996.

Cultural Trends editor Sara Selwood said: "Hard decisions are now having to be made between maintaining public access and conserving properties for the future. We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the expansion of public access to historic sites."

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