Museums and galleries across Britain are closing their doors at an unprecedented rate because of budget cuts, according to new research.
The "devastating impact" of financial austerity on our cultural heritage has been revealed in a study published today by the Museums Association (MA), which represents the nation's museums and galleries.
Cutbacks are so severe that almost a quarter of institutions have closed all or part of their sites, with services to schools also taking a "hammering", it warns. Recent closures include the Malton Museum in Ryedale, which boasted a collection of Roman antiquities. Exhibits including a painted goddess, pottery and a manicure set are now being held in an industrial unit that the public cannot access.
Church Farmhouse, a "historical gem" in north London that recalled the "village" of Hendon before it became a sprawling suburb, has also been cleared of its exhibits. A building that had preserved the look of an early Victorian kitchen and dining room now lies "empty and mouldering" while the local council seeks to sell it off.
The MA research, conducted earlier this year, found that 11 per cent of museums had permanently shut whole sites, while 22 per cent had closed parts of their sites temporarily or permanently. Just over half had suffered budget cuts over the past 12 months. Of those, 42 per cent had reduced staff, with many compensating for cuts with new or increased charges for school visits and reduced opening hours.
Mark Taylor, director of the MA, told the Independent: "It's not getting any better and in some cases it's getting worse. There's no prospect of an upturn any time soon."
He added: "What is so sad is that some of these closures are forever. Some collections are in danger of rotting and rusting away along with the sense of place, history and community that they represent."
Although all types of museums have been affected, 60 per cent of those hit are funded by local authorities. Other closures include the Botanic Gardens Museum in Southport, the Pumphouse Educational Museum in Southwark, Stamford Museum in Lincolnshire and Etruria Industrial Museum in Stoke-on-Trent.
The MA report warns that "many more" collections are "under threat" and that specialist museum skills will be lost.