Reviewed by Emma Rogers
The legacy of Winston Churchill and his history is explained in vintage detail amongst the war rooms below government offices near St James’s Park, London.
I knew very little about the Churchill War Rooms before we visited this week, only knowing that it had once been a secret hide-out of the Prime Minister during WW2 but knew very little else. In fact, it was only just finished as a ‘secret bunker’ just as war started in 1939 and used continuously throughout the war until 1945 when it was locked up, never to talked about again until the Imperial War Museum opened it again to the public in the 1980s. It was left in remarkable condition, with the offices still intact for over 30 years and very few people knew about its existence so when you visit the rooms, you see it exactly as it was left post war. Even the maps on the walls are the original maps.
Upon entering the War Rooms, visitors are given the option of an audio tour for visiting the rooms. Although this is useful, I didn’t think was absolutely necessary if you’re the kind of person who likes to read the signage, which is very good throughout. The tour starts by going through some of the original rooms showing the offices that were used, then the private bedrooms of Churchill and his wife Clemmie before showing the large conference room where all the decisions were made. Glamorous, it isn’t! All the rooms are a far cry from the type of conference rooms we have in offices nowadays. You also get to see the map room with the telephony and operation rooms, the dining room and the personal rooms for the Prime Minister’s secretaries and staff.
The museum extends on to an exhibition on Churchill’s life, and this is where you will probably spend most of your time. Looking back at his career as a politician at first, it details his life more thoroughly and has many personal exhibits donated by his family. There’s a very sombre video documenting the day of Churchill’s funeral, and lots of his painting and books, giving a more rounded background to a man who could sometimes be difficult.
I felt that the tour was probably not for young children, mainly teenagers at best unless the children are interested in World War Two or Churchill. It was aimed more at adults, which was reflected in the visitors walking round. If you’re claustrophobic too, then this isn’t the place for you as there’s no natural daylight and only one way in and one way out. Not many places to sit down either, but there is a cafe at the end.
We spent 3 hours in there and could have spent longer if we wanted. It’s eye-opening and very interesting to see how a secret bunker works, and hear the stories of those who worked there, which is all on the audio guide. I enjoyed the Churchill exhibition the most and could have spent much longer walking round there.
Tickets: £17.25/£19*(Adult) / £8.60/£9.50* (Child) / Family tickets from £29.35
*Price with donation
For more information or tobook tickets visit www.iwm.org.uk.
Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles St, London, SW1A 2AQ