The Big Free – celebrating 10 years of free museum admission - Thursday, 1 December 2011

Three of Yorkshire’s major tourist attractions are celebrating the 10th anniversary of free admission to national museums today (December 1) by pledging, “We’re free and plan to stay that way” and by bringing three very different parts of their collections together to mark the occasion – a steam locomotive, a knight in full armour and an iPad!

The Royal Armouries, Leeds, The National Media Museum, Bradford, and the National Railway Museum, York, all play a central role in attracting people, school children and tourists to the region and say free admission is central to their long-term policy and provides a major boost to visitor numbers.

The Government introduced free admission to national museums in December 2001, as part of a key pledge to make the national heritage accessible to all and to boost the UK tourist industry.

Peter Armstrong, director at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, said,

“It is absolutely right that people can visit national museums and see their country’s heritage as often as they like, without having to worry about admission charges…Our visitor numbers jumped by nearly 100,000 in the first year of free admission. Our visitors come from all walks of life – including thousands of families with children – and we pride ourselves on providing a great free day out, that’s both enjoyable and educational.”

Colin Philpott, director of the National Media Museum said,

“Free entry has contributed to our success over the last 28 years and helped us to become one of the most visited Museums outside London. Yorkshire’s national museums bring both cultural and economic benefits to the region and we are delighted to be celebrating free entry with the Royal Armouries and the National Railway Museum.”

Emma Farley, Marketing & PR Manager at the National Railway Museum, said,

“We are thrilled to say that in the past 10 years, just under 8million people have visited the National Railway Museum and enjoyed access to the National Collection for free. With our ever changing programme of free events and exhibitions, we hope to attract even more visitors over the next decade.”

The “Big Free” have seen significant boosts to their visitor numbers as follows:

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is Britain’s oldest museum and home to the national collection of arms, armour and artillery. The first national museum to move its HQ from London, the Royal Armouries also has UK sites at the White Tower, within the Tower of London, and at Fort Nelson in Hampshire. It’s also the first UK museum to have opened a permanent branch in the US.

The Leeds museum is a multi-million pound purpose-built building. It houses a large part of the national collection of arms and armour, and displays over 8,500 objects throughout its five themed galleries – War, Tournament, Self Defence, Hunting and Oriental. In the past 10 years, it has attracted approximately 2.8 million visitors. During the first year of free admission, numbers increased from 185,710 to nearly 281,000 – an increase approaching 100,000 in a single year. For more information, visit

The National Media Museum in Bradford, opened as the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in 1983 with the remit to explore the art and science behind images and image-making, and has since become one of the most visited UK museums outside London. With the aim to be the best museum in the world for inspiring people to learn about, engage with and create media, it draws from more than 3.5 million objects in its National Photography, Television, Cinematography and New Media Collections to create special exhibitions, interactive galleries and activities for families and adults. It also organises three major film festivals each year – Bradford International Film Festival, Bradford Animation Festival and Fantastic Films Weekend, and is home to Europe’s first IMAX cinema screen.

It has always offered free admission and has attracted an average of 650,000 visitors per year over the past 10 years. For more information, visit

The National Railway Museum in York covers over 200 years of railway history and its collections include over 100 locomotives , some 250 items of rolling stock and thousands of other objects – from posters and tickets to uniforms and silverware. Visitors can enjoy a fun, family day out with plenty to do for the kids – including an action-packed annual programme of special events and exhibitions. Since the introduction of free admission, just under 8 million people have visited the National Railway Museum – with visitor numbers ranging from 650,000 to just over 900,000 a year. Prior to December 2001, visitor numbers averaged 450,000. For more information visit

The news that free admission has boosted visitor figures was welcomed by Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

He said, “This is excellent news for three of our major attractions. Yorkshire is bucking national tourism trends and moving forward into 2012 we are certain visitors will continue to be attracted by the rich variety of choice and excellent value our magnificent county provides.”

Notes to editors

For more information and the latest news about the Royal Armouries:

Royal Armouries website
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