Nearby to Lambeth North tube station is the imposing and impressive Imperial War Museum. Its large military guns are guarding the entrance. Not that far from its original home in Crystal Palace from 1917, the idea was to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of the British Empire during World War I. Since this time, the museum has expanded to include all conflicts in since 1914 across the British Commonwealth.
The current home of the museum has a dark and infamous past before the Imperial War Museum relocated there in 1936. The building used to be the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, also known as Bedlam, albeit the hospital only moved to this site in the 19th century.
Tribute and Sacrifice
With the sheer number of young men that sacrificed their lives during World War I, perceptions and beliefs were changing in Britain. These working-class men had little to no rights (only in 1918 did they get the right to vote), and still, they gave ultimate sacrifices for King and Country. The museum aimed to be a tribute to those people rather than a tribute to war and conflict itself.
A Luftwaffe bomb hit the museum in 1941, destroying a small number of models and planes. This bomb was just one of more than 40 hits the building received during the Second World War. The museum was closed during the Blitz to the public but was still open behind the scenes with repairs to vehicles and civil defence lectures. The museum reopened to the public but was damaged and dingy and not fit for purpose.
Redevelopment and Expansion
In 1966, the museum was expanded, with a cinema installation and the impressive 15-inch military guns outside the entrance. Further reconstruction was completed in 1986 and 2012, the latter in honour of the First World War centenary.
As you explore the museum, prepare to be immersed and inspired. Throughout my numerous visits, the focal point for all exhibitions is the people and their perspectives, not the conflicts themselves.
Permanent exhibitions include First and Second World War. There are numerous military vehicles (planes, cars and boats) scattered around the building. One of the highlights is the beautiful yet haunting Holocaust exhibition. Everything from uniforms, sound clips, models, photographs and comics make up the displays. Up to date exhibitions include the current refugee crisis and conflicts in the Middle East.
The Imperial War Museum open daily from 10 am and is free to visit. Some special exhibitions require an entry fee and all donations welcome. It is family friendly (what little – and big – kid doesn’t want to see what a fighter plane looks like!) and fully wheelchair accessible. Paid tours are available around the museum, and it is highly worth a visit.
Check out the exhibitions here https://www.iwm.org.uk