My son is in Year 8 and has been studying the Second World War at school in his history so we decided to make the trip to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms in Central London. (Part of the Imperial War Museums but less well known)
The cabinet war rooms were constructed out of the basements of several large government buildings in Central London to give a secure place for the Prime Minister, his cabinet and generals to run the war.
You are given a phone type device - there are separate ones for children. My son found this commentary a bit patronising so I swapped with him but my 6 year really enjoyed keying in the number at each stopping point and holding it up to her ear to listen to it.
You see the best known part of the exhibition - the cabinet war room straight away with the square of tables and seats around the outside, map on the wall - but there is a lot more to come. The bedrooms - illustrating the rank of the occupants (whether they got a bit of carpet or just lino) the kitchens, the typing pool. The secretaries lived underground - sleeping in the cramped and rather unpleasant space on the floor below the museum of which you get only a glimpse - probably due to health and safety restrictions! They were provided with sun-lamps to try and make up for the lack of sunshine and there were small signs to tell you what the weather was like above.
The original BBC transmitters have been brought back to the transmission room - illustrating the essential communications purpose of the place.
One of the highlights is the map room - with maps still on the walls, desks and chairs and all accessories intact. They even found a paper packet of sugar in a desk drawer, neatly labelled, containing the general's sugar ration. The whole place was sealed up and left once the peace was declared.
The Churchill museum is a very large room in the middle of the cabinet war rooms - the nature of the place means that they couldn't choose where to put the rooms and obviously they had to just use what was there. There is a tremendous amount of information here including a giant interactive computerised table big enough for a dozen or more people to use at the same time - allowing you to page through many fascinating documents from throughout the war.
You can find the door of 10 Downing Street (a good photo opportunity), various uniforms, pistols and all sorts of things that belonged to Churchill. Interactive exhibitions displaying such things as the houses he lived in and comparing him with Chamberlain. I was surprised to find out for the first time about his involvement in the Boer War (at the start of the twentieth century) -escaping when a PoW by climbing over a wall and then jumping on a train - not something I expected from my image of him as the stout, cigar smoking gentlemen that he was by the time of the second world war. It was also fascinating to hear why Churchill was out of favour at the start of the second world war, due to having going against public opinion in the 1930s arguing against independence for India (he was very keen on the British Empire) and in favour of the King marrying Wallace Simpson. It is interesting to ponder how things might have gone differently had he been in charge from the start of the war!
I would recommend this museum to anybody with an interest in history and it will be especially useful for students studying the World War II as part of their history GCSE.
Unusually, the cafe is inside the museum - about two thirds of the way through - this was very pleasant and fairly quiet when we visited mid-afternoon. The tea and scones were very nice (they also do cakes and sandwiches).
There is a small but densely packed gift shop with the expected assortment of collection of postcards, books, toys, mementos etc.
Cost (UPDATED March 2014)
Cost: £17.50 each for adults but children are free.
Students & Senior citizens: £14.00
(Admission prices excluding voluntary donation: Adult £15.90, Concessions £12.70)
It's well worth checking the 2for1 London offers as this is included in the 2for1 scheme if you travel that day by train (not underground) and some coaches (it's within walking distance of Victoria)
Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ
By St James Park
Open 7 days a week
The nearest tubes are St James Park or Westminster
There are certain attractions that spring to mind when you think of London and the Cabinet War Rooms is not one of them ? but it should be. I put off visiting the museum in favour of other tourist attractions but eventually I got round to it and I wished I had done it sooner. It really was fascinating. The rooms are located deep in Whitehall?s cellars and you could easily walk past without giving them a second glance- but that was how it was meant to be! It is truly amazing what the discreet entrance gives access to- a true piece of history like none other I have seen. ADMISSION Admission is £7 for adults and well worth every penny. Reductions are available for children aged 5-16, students, disabled people, pensioners, unemployed people and groups of more than 10. The war rooms are self-financing and you are encouraged to make donations at the end but no pressure is put on you to do so. I thought it was a very reasonable price considering it is a Central London attraction. You are free to go around in your own time and it is very interesting. The detailed descriptions answered all of my questions well. It is an attraction that would be enjoyed by young and old but in different ways. It really is a strange feeling to stand in a place where so many important decisions were made all those years ago. It is open every day except December 24-26 from 9.30am (10am October-March) to 6pm and last admission is 5.15pm. I saw details of something that sounded like a novel idea, and that was that you can actually hire the rooms as an unusual venue for receptions, dinners and buffet evenings. The war rooms are easy to get to and the nearest underground stations are Westminster and St James Park. WHAT ARE THEY? The Cabinet War Rooms were built underground to protect the Prime Minister and central government from the expected air raids on London during the Second
World War. It meant officials could stay in a central location and not appear to be deserting the people. The rooms have been left as they were more than 50 years ago and really do transport you back in time. The Imperial War Museum has preserved the rooms since opening them to the public in 1984 and every last detail is spot on, down to the pens and paper on the tables. It is strange to think that they were once a secret at the heart of Britain?s government when they are now open to all. The location was only known to a select few and armed guards kept watch of the entrance steps inside one of the buildings above. It has been preserved so well that it is easy to imagine this being the case. It was the base for Winston Churchill, his war cabinet and the heads of three branches of the Armed Services where they could work undisturbed around the clock for the six-year war. It is strange to have gone through my life hearing about Winston Churchill and the important role he played for the country and then to stand next to the bed in which he slept, peering into his bedroom. The lights were switched off in the central map room on August 16 1945 and it remains as it was on that day. GUIDE BOOKS Guide books are available and make interesting reading although you don?t really need them while walking around the museum. Instead, you are given a handset at the start of the tour which guides you around. Each room displays a number which you tap into the handset and a recorded guide to that section is played. It is a great way of finding out all about what you are looking at. There is no additional charge for the sets and you have to hand them in at the end. They are available in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and Swedish. I think a shorter version is also available for children, but only in English. WHAT DO YOU SEE? The rooms are 10ft below
the ground and very dull- hardly the place you would expect to find government officials, but you have to remember that the country was in the middle of a war. They became operational in 1937, just a week before Britain declared war. The entrance is surrounded by sandbags which are a recent addition as the original entrance was via the government offices above. A display of newspaper cuttings is the first thing visitors walk past and are housed in an area that was coal bunkers during the war. The history of the war is outlined on several big boards which makes a good starting point for the museum. A display case also houses interesting exhibits items including the rooms? wartime visitors book and three lumps of rationed sugar that had been hidden in a drawer for more than 40 years before being found. Next, you walk past the Cabinet Room where one wall has been removed and replaced with glass to allow you to peer in. Important meetings were held there and history-changing decisions were made around those tables. Red girders support the ceiling in case it collapsed if the building above was struck. It really does bring home the serious risk at the time. A red light above the door would have been displayed to show whether air raids were taking place above. Every little detail in the room is well covered by the information provided. Next comes The Dock which is where other staff such as typists, clerks etc would have been housed. A 3ft reinforced concrete slab on the ceiling offers a protective layer making it bomb-proof and a cross-section of it is seen later in the tour at room 59. You walk along a main corridor passing doors to key rooms and it is easy to imagine how people would have been rushing around under a tense atmosphere all that time ago. The transatlantic telephone room is very small and a window has been made in the back of a former broom cupboard so you can see it. I fou
nd it really interesting that it housed a direct telephone link between the Prime Minister and the American President and the door is actually a lavatory door with the dial set at ?engaged?. People were made to believe it housed a toilet exclusively used by the Prime Minister. A row of rooms follow filled with artefacts such as broadcasting equipment in one room used by the BBC to keep the country up-to-date and other items include gas masks, helmets and the office space and bedrooms of several key officials. You also see the cramped room in which typists worked frantically and it is easy to imagine what the atmosphere would have been like. A map leading you around the rooms shows one filled in with concrete. It was below a staircase and seen as a weakness should the buildings be hit, so was filled in. A tunnel has now been drilled through, which took three months, so you can walk through it into the map rooms. Huge maps of Europe line the walls covered in pins, string and notes. It is amazing to think that this was how things were done and it reminded me of several films I have seen! The map room was only open to certain people and a list of their names is pinned onto the back of the door. Every book, map, chart, pin and notice occupies the same place today as during the war. The walls really are plastered with maps, including a huge map showing the routes taken by convoys crossing the Atlantic. One of the highlights for me was Winston Churchill?s bedroom. You do not see it until near the end of the tour and other newly opened rooms when we visited included Mrs Churchill?s room and the kitchen used to prepare the couples? meals. SHOP As with most tourist attractions there is a shop at the end of the tour offering the usual souvenirs and items are also available by mail order. The guide book says that a free leaflet is available by writing to Sales Officer, Mail Order Department, Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Airfield, Cambridge, CB2 4QR or call 01223 835000. MORE INFORMATION The Cabinet War Rooms are located at Clive Steps, Charles Street, London. More information is available by calling 020 7930 6961, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the informative website at www.iwm.org.uk I was not really one to visit museums etc and was not really that bothered about visiting the war rooms but I absolutely loved it and would certainly go back.