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The country’s great buildings are beginning to open again, as lockdown restrictions are eased. Many are looked after by English Heritage and the National Trust. Now, more than ever, those organisations could use a membership boost to help safeguard Britain’s heritage. Both offer hundreds of exciting days out for families. If you can only join one, which should it be?
What’s The Difference Between English Heritage And The National Trust?
On the face of it, English Heritage and the National Trust appear to do very similar things. They both look after historic buildings and locations, and open them up to the paying public. We can list out the key stats a bit like a game of Top Trumps:
Number Of Sites
English Heritage: >400
National Trust: >500 plus about 1,000 square miles of land
Note: Not all have yet reopened following coronavirus lockdown (Aug 2020).
English Heritage: 1983 or 2015 (the former was when the name came into use as a government agency; the latter when it became a charity)
National Trust: 1895
Most Famous Sites
English Heritage: 1.04 million (2019)
National Trust: 5.6 million (2019)
The two organisations also have differences in character. As a rule of thumb, English Heritage mostly deals with truly ancient places -- castles, fortifications, monuments and the like -- while the National Trust’s building portfolio brims with stately homes. If it’s got furniture inside, it’s probably NT. If it’s got no roof, it’s likely to be EH.
These are, of course, stonking generalisations. Charles Darwin’s home in South-east London, for example, is furnished much as he left it, but is claimed by English Heritage. Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, meanwhile, is a crumbling abbey that has absolutely no roof, but is part of the National Trust.
The National Trust also plays a stronger role in safeguarding areas of natural beauty (that may or may not have historical significance). It is the largest private landowner in the country looking after, for example, 780 miles of coastline and much of the Lake District.
Another key difference is that English Heritage looks after places only in England, whereas the National Trust also encompasses Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own independent National Trust for Scotland.
Lyme House, Cheshire. National Trust
How Much Does Membership Cost?
English Heritage: Individual membership £63; two-parent family membership £109; one-parent family membership £63
National Trust: Individual membership £72; two-parent family membership £126; one-parent family membership £78
The slightly cheaper cost of English Heritage reflects its smaller number of paid-for sites.
Prices accurate at the time of writing (mid-August 2020). Family memberships allow up to two adults and 12 children.
What Do We Get For Our Money?
Membership of both organisations includes unlimited entry to all properties, free parking (where a charge would otherwise apply) and free or reduced entry to special events. You’ll also get a members’ magazine. EH members also get access to a Rewards Scheme, which gives money off on partner experiences and products.
Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, National Trust. Image by author
Which Should I Join?
There’s not a huge deal to separate the pair from a parent’s point of view. English Heritage will probably shade it if your kids are into castles and crenellations and mysterious ancient stones. Then again, the National Trust has all those acres of parkland and coast to explore, while it’s stately homes all put on child-friendly activities. English Heritage may be a little cheaper, but the difference is tiny in the grand scheme of things.
Your best tactic might be to look at maps of the historic sites looked after by the two organisations. Take into account which has the most to offer in your local area, or the parts of the country you are most likely to visit. The websites of both organisations will show you a list and map of the closest sites to your postcode.
Whichever you decide, you’re sure to unlock many family adventures you wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.