Featured Image Credit: Society of Antiquaries
Coronavirus, lockdown, tiers – it’s something we’re all getting used to by now, so it’s easy to forget the significant impact it’s had on small businesses that have had to close their doors for months on end. Even the biggest businesses, national museums, castles and stately homes, are flagging – most can accommodate less than 50% of their usual capacity even in areas with the laxest restrictions. Moreover, historic buildings have to be maintained with specialist methods and materials that can cost millions annually, as well as keeping on a full roster of year-round staff even when the sites are closed to visitors. However, not all historical sites and businesses have government-supported parent companies to fall back on. Here are just a few of some of our favourite independent tourist venues up and down the UK which are thoroughly deserving of your support throughout and after the COVID-19 crisis:
- Samlesbury Hall, Lancashire, England
Built 1325 by Gilbert de Southworth, Samlesbury Hall lies in an unassuming wood nestled just off the side of the A road linking Preston and Blackburn. During a 700 year history, the building has seen presence by such famed figures as Robert the Bruce, the ‘famous’ Samlesbury Witches, Charles Dickens, and (of course) a host of malevolent spirits.
The history of the Hall is as colourful as it is long. It has transcended social class throughout its life, going from the seat of Lords, to a cloth factory, to an alehouse, a school, a family home, a 1940s aircraft factory, to the tourist attraction it currently is.
Much of its current appearance dates from Tudor times, and though the interior has fallen victim to vandals and enthusiastic redecorators in the past, many of its original features remain and visitors can get a thrilling experience of an authentic medieval English stately home. After its last private owners fell into financial difficulty in the 1920s and the Hall’s site was earmarked for housing by a local developer, residents banded together to establish the Samlesbury Hall Trust. The trust still owns the Hall to this day.
Though staff welcomed a £388,000 grant from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, this is nominal in comparison with the cost of a historic building’s yearly upkeep. The website currently lists the Hall as definitely closed until “at least the 17th December,” which highlights the uncertainty of our current situation. Support them by buying wonderful gifts like homemade honey from their online shop, follow their social media, consider a donation if you have a little extra cash this Christmas. You can even order your whole Christmas dinner from one of their in-house chefs! Remember to schedule a visit as soon as Lancashire moves out of Tier 3 restrictions.
2. Burlington House, London, England
Since 1854, Burlington House has been home to five learned societies and is the usual venue for art exhibitions by the Royal Academy. The grand Palladian mansion, originally constructed in the 1660s with significant alterations the following century, has been owned by the UK Government since the 19th century. For Burlington House, the coronavirus crisis has been an added stress to one occupant’s ongoing rent struggles with an uncooperative government.
The Piccadilly site is home to the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Linnean Society, the Geological Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In their own words, this provides a “creative hub” for the advancement of our collective knowledge. This is great for the public as it has huge potential for both research and recreational visits.
As the Museums Association reported in November, the relationship between the societies and government is becoming increasingly strained. Since 2012, the rent price the Society of Antiquaries has to pay the UK Government per annum has increased by 3100%. This means an increase from £4500 pa to around £150,000. As a charity, the majority of its income is self-generated, and no public funds are spent on it. Maintenance is getting increasingly difficult in the face of rent hikes and closures where researchers cannot visit as freely to carry out their work, although their library is currently open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The Society has warned that, should it be forced to seek alternative accommodation, this could mean the auction of some of its valuable collections to raise funds. This could include tools made by Neolithic people, Tudor paintings, pre-Reformation religious manuscripts and many more. Their sale would almost definitely take them away from public access in the same vein as now.
There are plenty of things you can do to help save the Society’s place in Burlington House: write to your MP, raise awareness on social media, share a story about a previous visit. This link will take you to the Society’s page with more information about how to help. Consider a visit if you are in London over winter or use their archives for your research project.
3. People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, Glasgow, Scotland
The People’s Palace is a familiar landmark for residents of Glasgow’s East End or the many TRNSMT festival goers in the summertime. Opened in January 1898, it provided a similar level of refinement and relaxation as offered by the contemporary Winter Gardens and Kibble Palace in the West End. Residents could momentarily escape the overcrowded, poorly managed tenements to enjoy libraries, concerts and artworks. The Palace also offered a vast botanic garden with a range of exotic plants in its glasshouse which remains today. Since the 1940s, it has officially served as Glasgow’s ‘social history’ museum. Its chief engineer intended it to be open “for ever and ever.”
The Palace has a lot of ‘social history’ to live up to, despite its surroundings telling a more imperial story – the ornate terracotta fountain outside was constructed for an exhibition in Glasgow in 1888 to show off the dominions of the British Empire. The adjacent green, however, has long been a place for progressive activists to organise, with demonstrations of 40,000 and 70,000 people demanding greater political representation in 1816 and 1832 respectively. Suffragettes also used the Green as a meeting place for demonstrations at the turn of the 20th century.
Throughout its life, it’s grandiose architecture has proved problematic. Closure became necessary for 2 years in the 1990s to repair structural damage to the Winter Gardens’ ornate glass roof panels. Eventual resumption proved popular, and the museum (when last open) featured exhibits ranging from Billy Connolly’s Banana Boots to replicas of familiar sights of Glasgow’s past such as a “steamie (laundrette.)” Whilst reopening was possible in this instance to coincide with the Palace’s 100th birthday in 1998, recent times have seen the historic venue resigned to a state of limbo.
Closure was flouted in 2018, which was averted by a £350,000 repair effort for the unstable roof. Today, the building faces bills of over £5 million to get back to its original splendour. The Palace has not been open to the public since before the initial lockdown in March 2020. Unfortunately, many of the exotic plants in the gardens appear to be in poor condition and the front doors remain locked, as city council chiefs remained quiet on the People’s Palace while discussing reopening plans for Glasgow heritage sites at the lifting of the first lockdown this summer. Restoration plans slated to enter the consultancy stage by museums administrator Glasgow Life appear to have lain dormant since 2019.
The campaign group, Friends of the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, is fighting to save the historic building from permanent closure. Its committee is chaired by Elspeth King, who served as curator of the Palace from 1974-1991. You can help by supporting them on social media and writing to both Glasgow City councillors and local MSPs to demand action. If you wish to make a donation to the palace itself, you can do so via the Glasgow Life website. The Palace is a significant monument to the plight of the working class in Glasgow, and it would be a tragedy to see it go.
Is there a venue at risk you’d like to help protect? Write an article for them! We would love to have you work with the Bloom team. If you can help protect a cultural centre at the same time, it’s a win win!