Visitor numbers at Chester Cathedral swelled from 60,000 to more than 200,000 last year after the entrance fee was dropped.

And vice dean Canon Peter Howell-Jones told a gathering of business people the aim was to bring one million people into the cathedral within five years.

It was back in 2004 that the cathedral introduced an admission charge as a contribution towards the annual running costs of more than £2m.

But last summer the cathedral scrapped the £6 entry fee and now only requests a donation. 

Canon Peter Howell-Jones  told a 300-strong meeting  in the cathedral refectory, hosted by Chester Business Club, that visitor numbers had rocketed.

Vice dean Canon Peter Howell-Jones addresses the Chester Business Club event in the cathedral refectory
Vice dean Canon Peter Howell-Jones addresses the Chester Business Club event in the cathedral refectory
 

“Part of the problem was we charged for entrance and that drove people away,” he said. 

“Once we had free entrance the numbers went up to over 200,000 this last year and the five-year plan is to bring one million into the cathedral.”

Canon Howell-Jones said the cathedral had decided to go free to enter after Cheshire West and  Chester Council offered support for its Cathedral at Heights project in the form of a £1.4m grant.

From Easter, the public will be taken on guided tours up the cathedral tower to learn more about the history of the building  as well as taking in views of the city and surrounding area. However, there will be a charge for the Cathedral At Heights experience.

 

Canon Howell-Jones,  who spoke at length about the cathedral’s plans to regenerate its estate, added: “The aim and desire is for the city to flourish.  Average visitors can do Chester in under two  hours so we need to increase what is known in  the trade as the ‘dwell  factor’ and going free to  enter increases the dwell  factor on rainy days and  putting on the tower tour increases it by another 90 minutes. It’s not just going up the tower, it’s a  proper tourism attraction.”

He said visitors will even be able to have a go at bell ringing using a carillon which allows eight bells to be rung at the same  time.