Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cathedral admission charges

Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, recently gave this written answer in the House of Commons to a question on the cost to visitors of accessing religious buildings.

Religious Buildings: Fees and Charges

Dr Offord: To ask the hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the cost to visitors of accessing religious buildings. [163105]

Sir Tony Baldry: Of the 42 Dioceses in England (excluding Sodor and Man and Europe) only nine cathedrals charge an entry fee. Chester Cathedral has just abolished all entry charges. Unlike the national museums none of the Church of England’s cathedral or church buildings receive grant in aid from the Government.

All cathedrals which charge for entry give free access to those attending services (of which there are a number every day of the week), to those who arrive on pilgrimage or wish to pray, some give free entry on Sundays and at other times, generally early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and others give free entry to local residents or church attenders in their Dioceses.

Only two of the great parish churches charge entry fees or a modest charge to enter part of the church. They are St Bartholomew’s the Great in London Diocese and Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon in Coventry diocese the resting place of William Shakespeare.

Both the churches and cathedrals resort to charging primarily to recover the cost of repairing the fabric of the building due to the large volume of tourist visitors they receive.

The English Cathedrals and Royal Peculiars that currently charge for entry as of June 2013:

Canterbury
Coventry
Ely
Exeter
Lincoln
Christ Church, Oxford (to enter college)
St George’s Chapel, Windsor (to enter castle)(1)
St Paul’s
Westminster Abbey(1)
Winchester
York Minster

(1) Royal Peculiar

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 8:29pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

I was at Ely on a Sunday afternoon ten days ago and was not charged to go in, and that was more than an hour before Evensong which I had gone to attend. Perhaps Ely is one of those that doesn't charge on Sundays. (Evensong, sung by the girls and men, was excellent)

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 8:47pm BST

Yes, Ely does not charge for entry on Sundays nor, of course, for those coming to a service on other days.

Simon K (a member of the Cathedral Council at Ely, but not speaking for the Cathedral)

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 9:12pm BST

"to those who arrive on pilgrimage"

The term "pilgrimage" is obviously open to interpretation. In 2013, a pilgrimage to view great ecclesiastical art would not be that unusual, I would think. [If I wasn't a believer (intending to pray within), it's a rationale I would use! ;-/]

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 9:32pm BST

Three cheers for Chester for abolishing all admission charges. WWJD? Over turn the tables of the money changers - that's what! Of course, those who wear dog collars get in free so there's a business opportunity for a budding entrepreneur to stand outside those cathedrals that do charge and sell clerical collars for 50 pence a go. Lord Sugar would approve.

Posted by: Father David on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 9:48pm BST

WWJD? I don't think he'd bother building a cathedral in the first place.

Posted by: David Keen on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 10:18pm BST

As an atheist who enjoys visiting cathedrals, I am more than happy to pay an entrance fee to look around one - I don't expect to get into a country house for nothing and I'm sure that cathedrals are at least as expensive to maintain and run as a large 'stately home'. Whatever one's view of the Church of England and/or its established status, these are incredibly important buildings that must be maintained - I've long felt that state ownership and maintenance of the medieval cathedrals would be a longer term solution (the same would apply to Grade 1 listed parish churches) with the CofE paying rent for worship use.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 at 10:40pm BST

I worked close to either St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey over a number of years and on a average day there is no feeling of being in a sacred building at all but simply being in a tourist trap. Although I agree that both in theory allow people to pray for free it was often quite difficult to persuade those responsible that you simply wished to pray.(for which reason I ended up praying either in Westminster Cathedral or one of the City churches, depending on my location)

Posted by: Confused Sussex on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 6:37am BST

I agree with Confused Sussex. If you charge people to enter a sacred building, it inevitably changes the way they think of and behave in that space. Entering the building becomes a transaction, for which they expect to get something in return, rather than a free gift that is given unconditionally (or almost unconditionally!) to all. The effect is especially pernicious when, as at Westminster Abbey, the visitors find that having shelled out their £12 (!) there are a lot of things they can't do, like take photographs of the interior of the building. I almost wonder if it wouldn't be better to close the building to visitors altogether.

I have a lot of sympathy with cathedral chapters that struggle to maintain huge and ancient buildings and to keep them accessible to the public. Many are faced with difficult financial choices (like whether to accept lottery money - I note that many now do). But charging visitors simply to enter the building should absolutely be a last resort. It sends a dreadful message to visitors, who may visit cathedrals for reasons largely obscure even to themselves. I applaud cathedrals like Durham and Salisbury that have managed to resist the need to put cashiers at the door and guards around the entrances.

Posted by: rjb on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 11:13am BST

I also congratulate Chester on abolishing the Entrance Charge. I hope and pray that one day York Minster will do the same. When my husband was Canon Treasurer at the Minster he always said that one 'would charge to enter the Minster over his dead body'. After we left the charge was imposed supposedly for a short time to cover debts run up by the new Dean. The charge is still there and increasing. It pays the costs of all the managers and admittance people etc doing what the four canons did in our day!

One cannot charge people and then encourage them to become pilgrims. Charging is to visit a historic monument and Cathedrals should be centres of worship and mission.

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 1:37pm BST

The more cathedrals charge, the more out of touch with the population they look when Occupy camp on their doorstep.

Posted by: Tim on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 2:52pm BST

I hate the need for these charges but, since I have no answer to how otherwise to make ends meet in these places, I pay up every time.

Some of the above criticisms seem devoid of positive suggestions about how Cathedral/Peculiars should manage without charging.

Not long ago I saw someone express outrage at being asked for the entry fee at Exeter. The person behind him in the 'queue' (with cash at the ready) asked who should fund the cost of his visit if not he himself. He left, apparently even more outraged.

Outrage comes easier than answers, it seems.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 3:04pm BST

Has Wells stopped charging since summer, 2011?

Posted by: Chip on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 4:24pm BST

Admission to St Mary-in-the-Castle is not free as there is a charge to enter Dover Castle which is managed by English Heritage.

The church is maintained by English Heritage as part of the monument. Although used as the garrison church, it is the chapel of an extra-parochial place.

Worshippers may enter the castle precincts without charge.

(My information may be dated.)

Posted by: Labarum on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 4:48pm BST

I was not criticising the chapters of St Paul's or Westminster Abbey - I accept they need the money for the upkeep of the buildings and I do not have an alternative solution!
But they should I think acknowledge that the prioritisation and/or provision for prayer and/or worship is minimised during office hours and that if you ask if you might pray you are more than likely viewed with some suspicion.

Posted by: Confused Sussex on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 4:57pm BST


It's difficult isn't it, and I've certainly been in the 'outraged' camp from time to time despite also working in the heritage field, and understanding perfectly well that the money has to come from somewhere.

I think a big difference is what is charged and how. A not unreasonable six quid not only gets you into Lincoln Cathedral, but also gives you as many repeat visits as you like a year - so the amount charged to locals dropping in even once a month becomes miniscule. This seems very defendable. (Mind you, if they were cannier, they'd make the teashop accessible to those who hadn't paid admission...)

By contrast St Paul's is £15, and last time I looked they knocked off a derisory 50p for anyone on benefits. This makes it look like a cynical tourist trap. If I was running the joint, I'd let anyone who was earning a pitiful income in for free at least once a week.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 5:26pm BST

Wells has never charged, they ask for donations but anyone can go in without paying.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 6:57pm BST

My Mum and Dad live in Oakham, a few miles from Peterborough Cathedral, and we love going there when we visit them. They have no admission charge but they do suggest a donation. They also charge three pounds for photography, and you can then take pictures of anything you want. Not only that, but the staff are some of the friendliest and most helpful I've ever run into - and that's my consistent experience over some fifteen years of visiting there.

When I have that sort of positive experience, I find I'm always in a generous frame of mind when I leave...

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 7:10pm BST

I was on the staff at Salisbury Cathedral for 8 years and am now at Ely. At Salisbury there's a 'donation' desk, though the truth is you have to be brave not to donate! We recognised we were hiding behind a fig leaf when we said we didn't charge! It's an unashamed charge at Ely, but your ticket gives you unlimited repeat visits during the year; local residents and those on parish ERs get a free ticket. No charge on Sundays, or before 1000 or to pray. Chapter's aspiration is not to charge, but as yet an alternative has not appeared.

Posted by: Mark Bonney on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 9:04pm BST

Wearing a 'dog--collar' one is obsequiously waved into cathedrals, payment also waived.

Go in, in muffti and be treated with clipped Southern insoucience, and rudeness.

Posted by: Laurence on Thursday, 18 July 2013 at 9:22pm BST

"clipped Southern insouciance, and rudeness" is Laurence implying that pilgrims , tourists and visitors to our Northern cathedrals are greeted with Christian warmth and hospitality? I note that only one cathedral in the Northern Province charges for entry - York! Perhaps the many cathedrals in the Southern Province which do charge admission fees should send those who work the cash registers to Peterborough for guidance where, according to Tim Chesterton, the staff are most friendly and helpful.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 19 July 2013 at 6:21am BST

Things are beginning to make sense - the new diocese of Leeds will have three cathedrals, will this be three more opportunities to increase funds? just askin'

Posted by: ian on Friday, 19 July 2013 at 12:56pm BST

On the whole, I find a big difference between the very friendly, welcoming and fervent welcome and on-going treatment accorded by National Trust volunteers; and those at cathedrals who man (sic) the entrance tills.

At Ely one goes thru the shop in the main are (paid to get there) but emeges in another (notional) area where one may not have paid; and I found it unnerving to be shouted at (I am hard of hearing) in front of everyone,"Sir, sir, have you paid?!" And to eventually discover that I am the object of such unwelcome and unwelcoming entreaty.

I could offer critiques and comparisons with one's reception at Wigmore Hall and various other venues and cathedrals / churches.

Posted by: Laurence on Friday, 19 July 2013 at 4:17pm BST

Mr. Baldry has missed (at least) three Royal Peculiars that charge for admission: King's College, Cambridge; New College, Oxford; and Buckingham Palace.

Posted by: Feria on Saturday, 20 July 2013 at 12:01am BST

@ Feria:

New College appears to have become a Royal Peculiar since I was its Chaplain in 2010.
______


Everyone is welcome to visit Newport Cathedral where I work. There is no entry fee and our little shop is tucked away - as is the cathedral itself!

Most things are done here by volunteers so we do not have a huge wage bill (our one employee is our new caretaker whom we can just afford because we have no office staff).
But being so off-the-beaten-track and with very modest foot-fall, we have few of the overheads generated by staff and tourist facilities. But the comments in our visitors' book repeatedly speak of 'calm place', 'holy space', etc. and so it is.

Yesterday a cheque for £100 arrived from someone at the other end of the country who had been here and wanted to send a donation. Not only was the gift precious but so, too, was the thought that someone had taken the trouble to send it when he got home.
I am glad that many comments on this page recognise the problem facing our great churches. The more negatively critical comments have still to come up with practical solutions.

Bad experiences there will always be - including here. Welcomers and others, like readers of this column, don't always get it right.

My least favourite experience in a great church is that of being coralled, as in a herd of cattle, when waiting to go to Evensong in Westminster Abbey. The practice is an innovation. It doesn't stop me going but I know the unpleasantness needs to be tolerated before the glory of the office. No doubt there are reasons for it and the vergers and marshals will have had a long day by then, dealing with that perhaps not always most attractive reality, the general public in large numbers.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Saturday, 20 July 2013 at 8:36am BST

Dear Lister,

New College is listed as a "definite" Royal Peculiar in P. Barber, 1995, _Ecclesiastical Law Journal_ *3*(16):299-312.

Posted by: Feria on Sunday, 21 July 2013 at 11:39pm BST

Dear Feria

I think it still might come as a surprise to both New College and the peculiarly royal.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Monday, 22 July 2013 at 12:54am BST

A possible solution to the problem of charging admission to cathedrals (or at least a means of lowering the more exorbitants ones, such as St. Pauls):

Why doesn't the CoE sell off some of its non-ecclesiastic real estate, and some (or all) of its art collection, and establish an interest-earning foundation to support these buildings?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 28 July 2013 at 9:00pm BST

A church is not a museum or an art gallery. It is the house of God. Entrance should be free to all whether they come to pray or stare. Entering a church bestows a blessing and making or paying money for that blessing is simony and a grave sin. When our time approaches to enter the gates of heaven, we know that our entrance fee has been paid for us - but those who charge us to enter our churches and cathedrals might find otherwise.

Posted by: Jim Roberts on Friday, 2 August 2013 at 6:14pm BST

In the last few months we have visited Winchester, Durham, Ely and Peterborough cathedrals.

The charge for Winchester was £15.00 each. I visited it many years ago when it was free, and it is an undoubtedly fine building, but it is not worth £15.00. So we turned away and spent our money in the city.

Durham was free. We walked around the interior for about 40 minutes, spent 20 minutes in the shop, where we spent well over £30. In the shop area they are building a sponsored model cathedral out of LEGO bricks. This was attracting great interest and goodwill. We bought a LEGO stained-glass window!

There were no signs in Ely at all until we were well inside the building, where we suddenly came across an 'admissions' desk which wanted £7.50 each. We left and went to the town.

Peterborough was free, friendly and quite beautiful inside. .

The moral seems to shallow-minded barely Christian consumers like us to be that if you charge admission we will not pay it and the cathedral will get nothing. If it is free we will certainly go in and almost certainly spend the equivalent or more of any admission fee in the shop or on other amenities. Also there is the overall impression left. We like Durham and Peterborough, we can take or leave Ely and we won't be going back to Winchester!

The National Trust comparison does not stand up. A cathedral is in effect 'one big room' and unless you are a medieval historian or have an interest in architecture about half an hour will do for most people. £15 for half an hour? In NT houses there is always much more to see in many different rooms and the Trust understand, value and appreciate their customers.

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Friday, 3 January 2014 at 1:32pm GMT

Went to Westminster Abbey today to pray. Turned away at ticket booth by aggressive woman. Let in at west door by verger who dictated where and how I should pray. Sensed I was watched in case I went touristy. Mailed Canterbury and suggested we must hope our Lord has £18 on Him when He returns to gain entry to His church.

Posted by: Allan on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 at 9:17pm BST

Just wanted to agree with the many comments on the friendliness of staff at Peterborough cathedral. It is a beautiful cathedral and I was delighted that they don't charge to go in. I visited the city of Ely too, but didn't go in to the cathedral due to a charge of £8. They lost out on my donation, but Peterborough gained an extra donation (Ely's loss).

Posted by: Lynda Kelly on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 at 10:22pm GMT
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