Entry fees to Doncaster’s Cusworth Hall have been scrapped after a dramatic nosedive in visitor numbers.
People drawn to what has traditionally been one of the borough’s most visited attractions bombed by almost a third after a £2 admission charge was introduced in 2010.
And after numbers dropped from 30,732 in 2009/010 to only 13,195 in 2012/13, it was apparent that serious action needed to be taken, say officials at Doncaster Council which owns the building.
Coun Bob Johnson, cabinet member for leisure and culture, confirmed the council has now decided to axe the charges.
He said: “Admission charges to Cusworth Hall were introduced in 2010. With many families struggling to make ends meet in these tough economic times, visitor numbers have fallen.
“Throughout this period visits to the park, which remain free, have not been significantly affected.
“We feel it is important that local people are able to access their heritage and the educational opportunities available at Cusworth, and that is why we removed admission charges.”
He said museums bosses are hoping the decision will mean a significant rise in visitor numbers - with a target of up to 20,000 visitors for 2013/14.
He added: “On a further positive note, sales in the shop, car park and tearoom have gone up and the hall is continuing with weddings and corporate events.”
Colin Joy, Doncaster’s tourism and visitor economy manager, said change did seem to be increasing visitor numbers already.
Visitors were also happy to hear the fees had been scrapped.
Sarah Sloan, of Cusworth, said: “We did stop going because there was an admission fee. If there’s a few of you it adds up. We live in Cusworth and it’s a nice place to look around and it’s pretty. If it’s free again we would definitely go back.”
Colin Tomlinson, of Bessacarr, said: “You’d always choose to go somewhere if it’s free. A lot of people feel the pinch these days. I think it was wrong to bring in the entry fee in the first place.”
Nigel Berry, of Armthorpe, said: “I have a granddaughter and I take her to have a play around. It’s a local history museum and that’s important. Apart from the actual park it’s all about the history of Doncaster. It’s been a while since I’ve been so I’d definitely go back now it’s free.”
Cusworth Hall has a number of events planned during the St Leger Festival, including Georgian costumed guided tours, performances of Alice in Wonderland, daily balloon rides, and exhibitions.
The Grade I listed building was constructed in the 1740s and is in a parkland setting on the outskirts of Cusworth village. The hall is one of only four listed Grade I listed buildings in the district.
Built by George Platt, a local builder and architect, for William Wrightson between 1740 and 1745, it was refaced and extended by James Paine in 1749 to 1753.
The hall and park have been managed by the local authority since 1961.
The grounds are open to the public.