Nottingham Castle has legendary links to Robin Hood and his robbing the rich to give to the poor, but the attraction has now been forced to close as a public museum after 150 years following a row over prices being too high.
The site once beset by besieging armies has been embroiled in a string of disputes since reopening in 2021 following a £30 million refurbishment to make it a “world-class” draw for tourism, and faced claims tickets were too expensive for local people.
Nottingham Castle has now been forced to close after its governing trust went into liquidation, with its board blaming visitor numbers being “significantly below forecasts”.
The museum, first opened to the public in 1878, has been handed over back to the direct control of Nottingham City Councilwhich described the liquidation as “a matter of huge disappointment” and pledged to “safeguard the site and its collections”.
The castle, which is now a complex of buildings including an art gallery, began as a Norman stronghold in the 11th century before becoming central to the legend of Robin Hood after it was seized from Richard the Lionheart by supporters of his brother John.
The fortifications were razed in the Civil War, and the new mansion which replaced it was wrecked by rioters in 1831. But in 1878 the castle complex was opened as a public museum which has been operated by Nottingham City Council.
This museum was handed over to the Nottingham Castle Trust, which oversaw a £30 million refurbishment from 2018 to 2021 which would allow it to “rival places like York and Warwick”, but the Trust has been embroiled in a series of rows about tickets, and allegations of bullying and racism.
Following the reopening of the castle last year local residents complained that they were being priced out of visiting by the £13 entry fee, plus add-ons for other parts of the site, and the Trust was ultimately forced to review its prices.
Conservative Nottingham City Councilor Andrew Rule raised concerns at the time that the castle was attracting negative publicity for “pricing out” local families, stating that it should “ensure residents have the opportunity to visit on an affordable basis”.
While the Trust had set a target of 300,000 visitors each year, its first seven months since reopening saw only 100,000 people turn up as the governing trust dealt with a series of disputes.
Allegations of bullying
Sara Blair-Manning, the CEO who had steered the trust through its refurbishment, left her post a month after the reopening and soon made allegations of bullying against the board. These claims are disputed.
During the same period, castle exhibition curator Panya Banjoko complained that her complaints about an alleged racist incident on the grounds were not properly dealt with. The Charity Commission found no wrongdoing on behalf of the castle, but an independent review backed Ms Banjoko.
Just over a year after reopening the site, the Nottingham Castle Trust has announced it is going into liquidation, stating: “While visitor numbers have been improving, they have unfortunately remained highly unpredictable and significantly below forecasts, mirroring the difficulties seen across the whole cultural sector. In line with heritage organizations and attractions across the UK, Nottingham Castle experienced a particularly tough summer that has negatively impacted expected funding streams.
“The immense challenges posed by the pandemic, the financial crisis and the three-fold rise in energy costs meant that this charitable trust model was no longer workable, and the Trust was simply not able to evolve quickly enough to survive the ongoing economic crisis as it enters its quietest trading period of the year.”
Nottingham City Council will take back control of the site, and its head of culture Councilor Pavlos Kotsonis, said: “This is clearly a significant blow for the city and its visitor economy. The council’s immediate priority is to work with the appointed liquidators to support those staff at the Castle who have been affected by this sad news, and to safeguard the site and its collections while it is not operational.
“We will re-open the castle as soon as possible. Once we have a clearer picture from the liquidators, we will explore all available options together with our key partners The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and others to develop a fresh business model.”