Despite grappling with a drop in tourist numbers to York following the Boxing Day flooding, York’s National Railway Museum saw a 3.1 per cent rise in visitors in 2015/16 - with a three quarters of a million visitors.
Bradford’s National Media Museum, which earlier this year was accused of “cultural vandalism” for agreeing to transfer hundreds of thousands of photographs to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, saw an even bigger increase in visitors of 11.1 per cent - to 460,000.
The owner of the attractions, Science Museum Group, which also runs the Science Museum in London, Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and the National Railway Museum site at Shildon, County Durham, had a record-breaking year, with more than 5.5m visitors across all sites.
In York, the National Railway Museum said its strong numbers were driven by last year’s successful theatrical productions of The Railway Children and In Fog and Falling Snow, produced in collaboration with York Theatre Royal, and the celebrations held for the newly restored Flying Scotsman, currently on display at the museum until May 1.
The world-famous locomotive was bought by the museum in 2004 for £2.3m in 2004, and work began two years laster on a £4.2m restoration. It went on display at York earlier this year before embarking on a national tour.
In January tourism agency Make It York warned the floods had provided a “very difficult start to the year” for tourism businesses, while Welcome to Yorkshire chief Sir Gary Verity warned footfall had “dropped dramatically all over Yorkshire” due to the misconception that swathes of the region remained underwater.
Director of the National Railway Museum, Paul Kirkman, said: “The increase in visitors to the National Railway Museum is testament to the fantastic year we have had.
“Our ground-breaking partnership with York Theatre Royal saw two of the city’s heavyweight cultural institutions pool resources, expertise and enthusiasm to engage audiences in the history of the railways in new, exciting ways.
“Now we’re delighted to have Flying Scotsman on display as part of our season of events and exhibitions celebrating the famous steam engine, and we look forward to welcoming more visitors to see the loco up close over the coming weeks.”
The increase in visitors at the National Media Museum has been put down to a “new focus” on the science of image and sound.
In February fears were raised that the museum was being closed by stealth after announcements that some 400,000 photographs are being moved to London and Bradford’s International Film Festival has been scrapped.
Bradford South MP Judith Cummins said she was “extremely concerned the recent announcements amount to the stealth closure of the museum as we know and love it”.
But the Museum Group last month “re-affirmed its commitment” to ambitious plans for the National Media Museum, announcing that “internationally significant” objects will be brought to Bradford. The items, from the Science Museum collection, include works relating to the work of pioneers such as Sir William Herschel, Sir Charles Wheatstone, Guglielmo Marconi and Sir John Fleming.
It will invest £7.5m in the Media Museum over the next five years.
The increase in visitor numbers was also due to a partnership with Horrible Science which brought almost 30,000 visitors to the Museum in just nine days in February, and last summer’s Light Fantastic exhibition.
The Museum has support from the community for its STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) agenda, with Bradford Council investing £1 million for informal science education.
Science Museum Group Director, Ian Blatchford, said: “I’m thrilled we’re breaking records yet again in London, Manchester, Bradford, York and Shildon. At the National Media Museum, the sharpened focus on STEM has triggered a record-breaking 11 per cent rise in visitors, and in York the growth is a real success given the impact of recent flooding on the city and region.”
Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: “The increase in visitors to the Science Museum Group’s museums show that the popularity of science is increasing all the time. People are voting with their feet in Manchester, London, York and particularly in Bradford where the number of visitors has increased so much. It shows the public has a real appetite for knowledge and innovation, which bodes well for culture and the economy.”