08/02/2024Record numbers of families visited English Heritage sites in 2023
- Family visits have increased by more than 50% over the past decade
- 19 sites enjoy record-breaking year, including Tintagel Castle and Lindisfarne Priory, as well as lesser-known gems such as Gainsborough Old Hall and Helmsley Castle
We welcomed more families to our historic sites than ever before last year. More than 550,000 families enjoyed a visit to English Heritage sites in 2023, the highest figure since records began and an increase of 54% over the last decade.
Stonehenge alone saw family visits increase by 23% year on year, with 2023 its best-ever year for families.
Overall, visitor figures to English Heritage sites were up 12% year on year. Nine of our historic castles, palaces and abbeys reported their highest-ever number of visitors last year, with a further 10 experiencing their best years in more than a decade.
Kate Logan, Historic Properties Director at English Heritage, said, 'Everyone remembers the first castle they ever visited and what I think we're seeing in these numbers is a desire among parents to pass on that experience of wonder and awe and might.
'And what better way to relive that than through the eyes of their own children? For us, it's an absolute pleasure to see so many families enjoying our sites, especially as we've been working so hard to share their great stories in ways that appeal to every member of the family.'
From Roman remains to fortresses and abbeys, visitors flocked to historic sites right across the country.
Castles continued to capture the public imagination in 2023, with Cornwall's dramatic Tintagel Castle recording its best-ever visitor figures for the third year in a row – up by almost 20% compared to 2022.
Meanwhile, lesser-known castles Helmsley in North Yorkshire (up 10%), Deal in Kent (up 9%), Portland in Dorset (up 20%) and Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight (up 4%) all reported their best-ever years, while Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire (up 12%), Pevensey in Sussex (up 6%) and Stokesay in Shropshire (up 16%) had their best years in more than a decade.
The appeal of the Tudors – perhaps heightened by the 2023 film Firebrand or Alison Weir's bestselling 2023 novel Henry VIII: The Heart & The Crown – was very much in evidence with five of the nine properties that posted their highest-ever visitor numbers connected to Henry VIII. Deal, Portland and Yarmouth Castles were all built by Henry as coastal fortresses, while Eltham Palace in London (up 9%) was his childhood home. Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire (up 19%) not only hosted Henry VIII on several occasions but it was also where his final wife Catherine Parr lived as a girl.
After celebrating the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian's Wall in 2022, Roman sites continued to see an uplift in 2023. Following a two-year conservation project, Richborough Roman Fort & Amphitheatre in Kent had its best year since 1997, welcoming 145% more visitors than prior to closing for the work. Aldborough Roman Site in North Yorkshire and Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire also posted their best-ever visitor figures since 1999 and 2011 respectively.
The other area of the charity's collection that saw increased visitors was its monastic sites. Furness Abbey in Cumbria, Lindisfarne Priory in Northumberland and St Augustine's Abbey in Kent all enjoyed their highest visitor numbers in more than 20 years. Battle Abbey in Sussex, Tynemouth Priory in Tyne and Wear, and Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire also had strong years, up 14%, 15% and 9% on 2023 respectively.
The 19 sites that enjoyed record years in 2023 are:
- Aldborough Roman Site in North Yorkshire – up 10% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 1999
The 'capital' of the Romanised Brigantes, Britain's largest tribe during the 2nd to early 5th centuries, Aldborough was a vital point of communication, administration and trade in the Roman North.
- Belsay Hall in Northumberland – up 26% up on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 2004
The home of just one family almost continuously since the 13th century, Belsay comprises a medieval castle, a 19th-century Greek Revival mansion and an outstanding garden linking the two. 2023 saw the end of an extensive conservation and restoration project, which included a brand-new family trail and play area.
- Clifford's Tower in York – up 1% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
The last remaining part of York Castle, Clifford's Tower has been a royal mint, medieval stronghold and Civil War garrison. Reopened in 2022 after a major conservation project, Clifford's Tower rewards visitors with a new free-standing roof deck and internal walkways, offering panoramic views of the city and access to previously unreachable rooms.
- Deal Castle in Kent – up 9% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
Built on the orders of King Henry VIII, Deal Castle is one of England's finest Tudor artillery castles. From tunnels below ground to the battlements above, the castle is full of activities, displays and artefacts telling the rich history of the fortress and the people who lived and worked there.
- Eltham Palace in London – up 9% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
Once a favoured medieval palace and Tudor royal residence (childhood home to Henry VIII), Eltham Palace was transformed into a striking art deco mansion with delightful gardens during the 1930s by eccentric millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld.
- Furness Abbey in Cumbria – up 6% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 2000
Founded almost 900 years ago, Furness Abbey was once the largest and wealthiest monastery in north-west England. Today, it has some of the finest monastic ruins in the country, including an ornately decorated chapter house and cloister buildings.
- Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire – up 19% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
A little-known gem, Gainsborough Old Hall has been at the heart of the town of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire for more than 500 years. It is one of the biggest and best-preserved medieval manor houses in England, with a huge medieval kitchen and Great Hall.
- Helmsley Castle in North Yorkshire – up 10% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
This 900-year-old castle in the picturesque North York Moors market town of Helmsley evolved from a mighty medieval fortress to a luxurious Tudor mansion, then to a Civil War stronghold and romantic Victorian ruin.
- Kirby Muxloe Castle in Leicestershire – up 12% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 2013
This picturesque fortified mansion was built for Lord Hastings, who was dramatically seized and executed by Richard III in 1483. The atmospheric moated remains include a fine gatehouse and complete corner-tower of the brick-built mansion.
- Lindisfarne Priory in Northumberland – up 17% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 1998
Located on Holy Island, reached via dramatic causeway, Lindisfarne Priory was founded by monks almost 1,400 years ago. It has borne witness to violent Viking raids, the creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the cult of St Cuthbert. In 2023, the priory's museum was refurbished, with newly excavated objects put on display, and a new monument for St Cuthbert now marks his original burial place.
- Pevensey Castle in East Sussex – up 6% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 1999
Founded in the 4th century as one of the last Roman 'Saxon Shore' forts, Pevensey Castle was also the landing place of William the Conqueror's army in 1066. It was pressed back into service as an emergency stronghold during the Second World War.
- Portland Castle in Dorset – up 20% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
Overlooking Portland Harbour in Dorset, the Castle is one of Henry VIII's finest coastal forts, built in the early 1540s to protect against French and Spanish invasion.
- Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre in Kent – up 145% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 1997
Richborough was the landing place of the Romans in AD43 when they began their conquest of Britain. It later became a thriving trading hub at the entrance to Roman Britain, and the site of a powerful 'Saxon Shore' defensive fort. In 2023, English Heritage reopened Richborough after a two-year renovation project to transform the way its story is told to visitors.
- St Augustine's Abbey in Kent – up 29% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 1997
Located just outside Canterbury's city walls, St Augustine's Abbey was originally created as a burial place for the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent and was one of the most important monasteries in medieval England – a centre of learning and spirituality.
- Stokesay Castle in Shropshire – up 16% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 1997
Constructed at the end of the 13th century, Stokesay Castle is the finest and best-preserved fortified medieval manor house in England.
- Tintagel Castle in Cornwall – up 20% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
Built half on the mainland and half on a jagged headland projecting into the Cornish sea, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacular historic sites in Britain, shrouded in Arthurian legend.
- Wrest Park in Bedfordshire – up 23% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever
A magnificent 19th-century French chateau-style house set in an outstanding restored landscape garden originating in the 17th century. Wrest Park's grounds reflect three centuries of English garden design, including one of the few remaining early 18th-century formal gardens.
- Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire – up 14% on 2022, with 2023 its best year since 2011
One of the largest cities in Roman Britain, Wroxeter was founded in the 1st century AD. It is exceptionally well preserved thanks to its relatively remote location, with highlights including a bath-house and reconstructed town house.
- Yarmouth Castle on the Isle of Wight – up 4% on 2022, with 2023 its best year ever.
Once one of Henry VIII's most sophisticated coastal fortresses, Yarmouth Castle was designed to guard the western entrance to the Solent and prevent capture of the Isle of Wight as a prelude to larger assaults on the south of England.