There was no charge for admission to the first exhibition in 1903 but visitor numbers were recorded as a measure of the exhibition's success . When the first exhibition closed on September 8th 1903, there had been 127,690 visitors. The visitor numbers remained over 100,000 each year until 1912, when they dropped to 90,000. A very popular exhibition of 30 Chantry pictures from the National Gallery in 1914 brought in nearly 120,000 but in 1916, with no new exhibitions because of the war, the annual figure was down to 70,000.
After the war, visitor numbers rose dramatically with the Summer Exhibition of 1919 being the most successful since 1903. The Stocks Massey Bequest allowed purchase of many new exhibits for the permanent collections after 1920 and by 1923 annual visitor numbers were approaching 200,000.
A major contribution to the increase in visitor numbers in 1925 was the display of the Booth collection of birds. This was displayed on the ground floor of the North wing. The back staircase was opened to relieve congestion, as between 3,000 and 4,000 people often visited on Sunday afternoons. The visitor numbers for that year were over 233,000 and remained over 200,000 for six of the next eight years before gradually falling to 110,000 in 1938.
At the start of World War II, Towneley was closed but re-opened in August 1940,from then visitor figures continued to rise with over 186,000 visitors in 1945. By 1950, figures had fallen below 80,000 but from then to 1970 stabilised to between 80,000 and 110,000 per year. During the 1970s numbers fell below 80,000 but the Craft Museum, opened in 1971 and the Natural History Centre, opened in 1983 helped to keep visitor numbers above 60,000.
A Museum Registration Scheme was established in 1988, renamed Accreditation Scheme in 2004. This recognised that visitor numbers was only one part in measuring a museum's success. The Audit Commission undertook a value-for-money review of local authority museums in 1991, identifying the importance of the registration scheme together with a move towards charging and educational support for schools. Over the next ten years, Towneley looked to improve visitor facilities with an extension to Towneley Hall opened in 2002. The developments since are covered under the subject heading of museum standards. The visitor figures in 2015 were around 70,000 reflecting the average over the last fourty years.