Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms

Picture of the entrance into the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.
Entrance into the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. Jen Rosenberg and About.com

What Are the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms?:

The Cabinet War Rooms are the restored rooms of the secret British underground bunker often used by top British officials as a headquarters during World War II. Also housed in the remains of the underground bunker is the Churchill Museum, a small museum dedicated to Sir Winston Churchill, who was prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II.

Dates:

Used as War Rooms from August 27, 1939 to August 16, 1945; Cabinet War Rooms opened to the public 1984; Churchill Museum opened 2005

Location:

King Charles Street in London, England

Overview of the Churchill Museum and the Cabinet War Rooms:

The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms are two museums that are both housed in what used to be a secret underground bunker during World War II. Since there is no separate entrance for the Churchill Museum, a visitor can visit both by entering through a small entranceway set beside a set of stairs on King Charles Street. This entrance did not exist during World War II; instead, people then entered the underground bunker through a stairway located within a building located above the bunker.

After entering, a visitor walks down a relatively short set of stairs and then pays to enter and picks up an audio headset. To use the audio headset, a visitor just programs in any of the numerous three-digit numbers placed around the museum in order to listen to additional information about that particular room or exhibit.

The audio headsets were a definite asset to the museum and added interesting content that were not on the exhibit signs.

The underground bunker was built in the months preceding World War II, becoming fully operational on August 27, 1939. However, at this time, they were not bomb proof. It wasn't until December 1940 (several months after the most intense bombings of Britain) that a thick layer of steel-reinforced concrete was added to the roof of the bunker, allowing the bunker to resist bombs up to 500 lbs.

The size of the underground bunker expanded as the war progressed, starting relatively small and growing to approximately 30,000 feet. When the bunker was closed down on August 16, 1945, many of the men and women working in the shelter cleaned off their desks, shut off the lights, and went home, never to return to the bunker. This meant that in a number of rooms, the furnishings and all the small details of life in the bunker during the war were kept intact.

The rooms in the Cabinet War Rooms are amazing, in a large part because so much of it was left in-situ at the end of the war. Many of the furnishings are exactly the ones used during the war, including desks, phones, blackboards, and papers. Even the swivel chair used by Winston Churchill in the War Cabinet Meeting Room remains as it was left.

One could spend hours looking at the maps on the walls. Nearly every room has at least one map, many of which have thousands of pin-pricks denoting the changing front lines and routes of convoys. A few others have graffiti drawn on them, showing some of the stress of working in an underground bunker during the war.

In the middle of the tour through the displays of the Cabinet War Rooms, a visitor will come upon a large room that holds the Churchill Museum.

This museum attempts to relate Churchill's life, from birth to death, using many new, interactive forms of multimedia. Personally, I found the museum both engaging and fascinating. Included in the museum is an interactive timeline of Churchill's life. (If you visit the museum, be sure to view April 14, 1912 to see how it affects the entire timeline.) In addition to the fun and interesting timeline, there are a number of additional exhibits that are equally engaging.

Along with information about his speeches, I particularly liked the information about Churchill the man. On display were one of his famous siren suits (one-piece, zip-up suits that he could throw on in a hurry during a raid), polka-dot bow tie (with an explanation why he wore them), information on his smoking and drinking habits, and details about his work day (did you know he liked to start work while staying in bed for a few hours each morning?).

Plus, don't forget to stop by the exhibit of the enigma machine and Churchill's painting hobby.

Once a visitor is done with the Churchill Museum, they continue to the remaining rooms of the underground bunker. Many of these rooms are spectacular. Near the end of the tour, a visitor can stop at the little cafe housed within the underground bunker to eat some "rations." I was hungry, so tried to grab a bite to eat there. The cafe offers a few sandwiches, soups, and pastries, but if you can, I would stop for a snack there perhaps and then get lunch elsewhere when you are done with the museum.

Overall, this was an amazing museum that I highly recommend.