Today it was announced that the Palace of Westminster would not, after all, be making an entry charge to the Clock Tower to visit Big Ben. Not until 2015, in any case. The House of Commons Commission seemingly backed down after protests from a group of MPs. The suggested ticket price was £15. Yes one-five pounds.
Instead of coming up with a sensible and fair price, the default position was immediately to fleece the punter. Why? Because they can, and there’s plenty of precedent. The Monument – a not dissimilar experience, I would suggest – charges a sensible £3, and I look forward to going up there soon. Most boutique museums and “lesser” historic sites tend to charge £5 – 7. Fair enough. My nearest, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, charges £10. A tad pricy, perhaps, but your ticket does at least last for 12 months. I wish more museums would do this.
Sites which were once free but have recently introduced entry charges are the Temple Church (£3, I think, info not available on their web site) and Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (£7). Not too bad, on the face of it, but again, once the charging principle has been established, price inflation is much easier to implement: the thin end of the wedge.
Remember Kew Gardens. It famously used to cost a penny to get in. When I first visited in the early 80s this had gone up to a few shillings, I can’t remember the exact amount. Today it costs a whopping £13.90. Other entry prices I find quite frankly shocking, include: Tower of London, £20.90; Hampton Court Palace, £16.95; St Paul’s, £14.50; Westminster Abbey, £16.00.
Now, I am a believer in the free market and the idea that you can price anything at what the market will bear, supply and demand and all that. But there are punters out there who will, for example, stump up £150 or more from a tout for a ticket to see, I dunno, let’s say U2 or Blur. Doesn’t make it right. No, my problem is that residents of this country, and Londoners in particular, are being priced out of big swathes of their heritage. And I include myself in this, incidentally. I strongly believe there should be a two-tier pricing system to take this into account.
Thankfully, many of our biggest museums and galleries are still free, and I congratulate them and the government for maintaining this situation. Long may it continue. My favourites are the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
What do you think about ticket pricing in our museums and heritage attractions? Do you know of other examples of charging being introduced?
*Prices cited here are from the relevant web sites of attractions themselves at time of writing.