I’ve visited the Imperial Museum North at Salford Quays, Manchester a couple of times but had not visited the main site in London so on this cold, dreary morning we decided to take a look. The nearest underground station is Lambeth North but this is currently closed whilst the lifts are being replaced so as an alternative, we headed to Elephant and Castle which was only a ten minute walk to Harmsworth Park where the museum is located.
Imperial War Museum London is open daily and admission is free except for special exhibitions where a fee is payable. The Museum moved to its current location on Lambeth Road, SE1 in 1936, the building previously the Bethlem Royal Hospital, Southwark. We started our tour in the large Atrium which displays a vast amount of military hardware including tanks, vehicles and aircraft from the First World War to the Falklands Conflict
We spent quite some time exploring the First World War galleries before moving on to the ‘Family at War’ section. Here, we were able to follow the Allpress family of ten who lived nearby in Lambeth. The gallery displays a large family tree which detailed the roles each family member undertook during the Second World War. We were able to look in reconstructed rooms furnished as they would have been in the 1940’s and view the cramped Air Raid Shelter that had been at the bottom of their garden. The displays explained how families coped with rationing, evacuation and war work from the time of the Blitz up until VE Day. Although I enjoyed viewing military hardware, the Family at War galleries brought home to me the hardships that ordinary families caught up in the conflict had to suffer and, as such, I was most interested in the social history aspect of the museum.
It was then time for some lunch so we took the Underground to Leicester Square from where we walked the short distance to Chinatown which lies just to the north of there. The area was crammed full of people as it was Chinese New Year. Roads were closed to traffic and the streets were adorned with red paper lanterns. A lion dancing troupe was entertaining the huge crowds stopping at Chinese restaurants where staff were leaning out of upstairs windows waving long sticks with food dangling on the end for the dancers.
It was so interesting to watch the dancers and despite it being cold the rain clouds had stayed away. Most of the activity seemed to be based around Gerrard Street where there are an abundance of Chinese restaurants, supermarkets and shops. Even the street signs here are displayed in both English and Mandarin.
It was much too crowded to eat in one of the Chinese restaurants without a reservation so instead we headed to Canary Wharf for dinner and then enjoyed a short walk there before heading back to our hotel for the night.