‘Stand on the Meridian Line? That’ll be £10, please’

The Greenwich Gazette spotted it and the Greenwich Phantom has already commented on it – but in case you haven’t heard, the Old Royal Observatory is to charge adults a £10 admission fee from March; meaning that tourists wanting the classic photo of them standing with one foot in each hemisphere will have to cough up. It may even mean they’ll get a worse visitor experience, for with under-16s going free, the adults who do pay will end up competing with Euro-youths with brightly-coloured backpacks to get their photos.

The Observatory – and the National Maritime Museum, which runs it – have been free since about 2001, when the Labour government removed admission charges from national museums. In this climate of cuts, and considering the droning rhetoric of education secretary Michael Gove, it seems just about typical that the bit of the Maritime Museum empire which is now charging is the one which teaches people about science, not the one full of dusty relics.

In the 80s and 90s, the Maritime Museum did allow free entry to people who lived in SE10 (and, I think SE3 and SE13) – I wonder a similar scheme could be introduced now? But it’s always seemed to me that Greenwich’s tourist attractions have never really had their visitors in mind – I visited the Observatory with a pal and her young son last summer, only to have found we’d just missed the last planetarium show of the day… at half-past three. That was bemusing with free entry, it’d have been enraging if we’d been charged £10.

Still, just as we told tourists in the 1990s, there are places you can stand on the meridian line for free – it’s marked beneath the Observatory, on the path around to the “secret garden”, and in Park Vista, by the Plume of Feathers pub. It did used to be marked with studs in Trafalgar Road but they’re long gone. Perhaps Greenwich should make more of its unique line – it’s no good to the place’s reputation if it looks like we’re going back to the bad old days of fleecing tourists.

PS. Michael Portillo visits the Observatory in tonight’s Great British Railway Journeys on BBC2, which covers London Bridge to Chatham (it’ll be his second trip to this area this series). Bet they wouldn’t dare charge him a tenner to get his picture taken…

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