A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Bank Holiday brain storm bulletin

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford finds inspiration elusive.
Yegad, what am I to do? Yet another: “Please give us all your old clothes – we’re a charity” plastic bag has dropped through my letterbox. Now, while I’m a charitable chap I just can’t keep on like this; if I donate just one more batch of garments I’ll be walking around the Minster nude – and that wouldn’t do anything good for our visitor numbers, I can assure you.
And concern over visitor numbers is a bit of a dark cloud hanging over the virgers at the moment – at least for the forthcoming Bank Holiday.
We are, quite frankly, a victim of our own success – at least, in the area of roof tours. T’other week I may have just casually dropped into the conversation, without any sense of bravado or triumphalism, that we had taken more people up into the central tower this year than we had in 2009 (twenty per cent more, actually).
However, although, my magnificent spreadsheet shows a really positive trend throughout the whole year so far – even during the period when John’s legs were giving him a lot of trouble and he had to cut back – there was a really big spike in demand at the end of August last and I don’t know how we’re going to match it this year.
You may remember that in 2009 we did something that generated huge interest and queues: we opened our 50 metre clock tower to the general public for the first time in 30 years. It was a brilliant story for a quiet news week and we got a lot of coverage in both the printed and electronic media.
And we obviously tapped a huge pent-up demand – by midday on the Monday all available spaces for the day had been reserved and we had to repeat the exercise on the following Saturday to accommodate a chunk of those disappointed on the day itself.
Naturally this fantastic response, at £10 per head, boosted our coffers and, equally naturally, everyone hopes we’ll repeat this success. But it isn’t as easy as that.
The pent-up demand, once satisfied, may no longer exist. We were also boosted by publicity that we’re not going to get for a repeat performance. What was a front page story in 2009 will, in 2010, struggle to find a couple of column inches on an inside page.
Which is a pity because the experience of climbing 212 uneven stairs in a narrow shaft is exactly the same as last year and the spectacular views are still there. The sense of triumph and accomplishment will be just as exhilarating as 12 months ago – possibly even more so for those who, like me, are conscious of advancing years.
“Yes! I can still do it! I’m still alive!” could very well be the motto here.
And it’s not just the climb on offer. En route you travel through the tympanum with its memorials and official graffiti left by centuries of woodworkers, masons and artisans – view our unique bell-ringing mechanism that spans two towers and marvel at the Victorian magnificence that powers our clock and chimes.
Then climb the stairs, as recently ascended by Fiona Bruce when she was doing the intro for the next Antiques Roadshow series (due to be broadcast on September 5th, thanks for asking) and marvel at your bravery and stamina as you peer down from 50 metres (or 165 feet as we old-timers still call it).
From this realm you can examine the emptiness that was Hodgson’s tannery and will, perhaps, one day in the future, when all’s said and done, if everything goes well, crossed fingers, become a vibrant sector of 21st century Beverley (with a cinema, please, thank you very much).
Or towards the Westwood – hundreds of acres of public open space given freely to the citizens of Beverley by the Minster staff some 600 years ago.
Or north and south over the town itself – see your own roof and check whether it needs any remedial work. Save a fortune, do your own survey from the comfort of our north tower roof.
I’m clutching at straws here, you can tell. Let’s just say that, if we don’t get a particularly huge response this year we may not repeat it next year. This might just be your last chance!
To make life easier you can reserve a space on one of the tours (starting at 10am, then every 40 minutes through the day) – just phone 868540 and leave your name, number and preferred start time.
Please come, have a wonderful experience and boost our numbers. And I promise I’ll have all my clothes on.
First published August 2010


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