English Heritage is the guardian of over 400 sites and monuments, the most famous of which include Stonehenge, Iron Bridge and Dover Castle. Whilst many have an entry charge, more than 250 properties are free to enter including Maiden Castle, Dorset and St Catherine's Oratory.
The properties are part of the portfolio of over 880 sites amassed by the British Government between the 1880s and the 1970s to form the National Collection of built and archaeological heritage. (The balance is in the care of Historic Scotland and CADW.) These sites represent a deliberate attempt by the state in the 19th and early 20th century to take the nation’s most significant prehistoric sites and medieval sites, which were no longer in active use, into public ownership. This national property collection performs the same function as pictures in the National Gallery and the archaeological material in the British Museum.
Unlike the National Trust, English Heritage holds few furnished properties. New sites are rarely added to the collection as other charities and institutions are now encouraged to care for them and open them to the public.
The properties are held by English Heritage under various arrangements. The majority are in the guardianship of the Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with the freehold being retained by the owner. The remaining properties are either owned by English Heritage, other government departments or the Crown Estate.
In 2010-2011 there were 5.5 million visits to staffed properties, an estimated 6 million visits to unstaffed sites and a further 32,340 free educational visits.
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