Exploring World War 2 London with children

A visit to the Imperial War Museum in London has been on the cards for some time but we wanted to wait until the children were old enough to understand and appreciate it. They’ve both learnt about the Second World War at school now so during half-term we combined the museum with a trip round London to view some of the other war legacies.

If you’re interested in a similar exploration I’ve listed below the places we visited and further suggestions that could be incorporated. I wouldn’t advise following our exact route; I had specific plans for lunch so our itinerary is based as much around our stomachs as World War 2 sites!

Site of the first bomb on the city of London, Fore Street

We started in Moorgate, looking for a plaque which commemorates the first bomb of World War 2 to fall in the City of London. It’s thought that German bombers were heading for an oil refinery along the Thames but dropped them, possibly mistakenly, over the city instead.

Plaque to remember possible site of first Second World War bomb in London, Fore Street
Plaque to remember possible site of first Second World War bomb in London, Fore Steet

Much of the City was rebuilt after the war but it seems to me that it’s being rebuilt again. The whole area around Moorgate Underground station is a building site which made it a little difficult for us to find the plaque. When we finally found Fore Street a construction worker kindly pointed out where to see it (down the end near St Giles Cripplegate Church).

Christ Church Greyfriars

We walked from Moorgate to Christ Church Greyfriars. Almost all churches in the City of London were damaged during the Blitz, including many designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. Christ Church was one of eight Wren churches hit on the night of 29th December 1940.

The ruins of Christchurch Greyfriars
The ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars

The church was almost completely destroyed although the west tower survived and is now a private house; what an amazing place to live! The remains of the church are a public rose garden, perfect for lunchtime breaks.

St Paul’s Cathedral, just a few minutes from Greyfriars, escaped major damage despite almost all of the surrounding buildings being destroyed. This was mainly due to a group of fire fighters who took special care to protect the cathedral.

World War 2 shelter sign – 36 Longmoore Street

Although the Underground stations famously doubled as air raid shelters during the war many other places were also put to use. These were signed to help the public locate them, some of these are still visible today.

One sign can be found at 36 Longmoore Street. Walking along the road you can see that most of the residents have converted their basements to kitchens. Back in World War 2 public shelters were found in vaults in these basements. We could just make out the writing on one of the walls directing people down the stairs to the shelters.

Public shelter sign, 36 Longmoore Street
Public shelter sign, 36 Longmoore Street

Whilst trying to find out more history of the street I couldn’t resist a peak at property prices. The relatively modest 3 bedroom houses all appear to be worth upwards of £1.8 million, wow!

Tate Britain bomb damage

Few places in London were immune to bombing damage in the Second World War. Even Tate Britain suffered as you can see from the photos below. I wonder how many people notice this when they visit the galleries?

Tate Britain war damage
Tate Britain war damage

I popped inside briefly to confirm that we were actually looking at bomb damage and spoke with a helpful assistant. He told us that the gallery was damaged by bombs several times in the war but most of the art was moved to Picadilly Underground tunnels for safe storage (the door key is on display in the gallery).

Imperial War Museum

Our main destination was the Imperial War Museum which covers conflicts from World War I onward. Although we were primarily there for World War 2 we also visited the Great War exhibits and had a brief look around at the more recent collections.

I thought the World War I rooms were by far the best, although busy due to school holidays. In comparison the World War II rooms didn’t seem as comprehensive although there was still plenty to see.

Japanese Zero fighter, Imperial War Museum
Japanese Zero fighter, Imperial War Museum

Whilst the children liked the big and obvious military exhibits I preferred the personal aspect of war stories. For this reason I focussed on the Family in Wartime exhibition which explored the life of the Allpress family during the Second World War. As well as reading and listening to audio clips about how their lives were affected there was a model of their home and an Anderson shelter.

I enjoyed seeing this letter from an evacuee, particularly the postscripts. I could imagine writing them myself as a child!

Evacuee letter, Imperial War Museum
Evacuee letter, Imperial War Museum

We missed the Holocaust exhibiton out as it’s only recommended for children aged 14 and older. I’ve read that it’s incredibly moving and sobering; definitely worth a visit on a future trip.

Admiralty Citadel

Our last stop of the day was the Admiralty Citadel. I loved seeing this! The Citadel is one of the ugliest and most out of place buildings you can imagine. It’s ‘hidden’ in full view of the public just off of Horse Guards Parade. Can you imagine this getting planning permission nowadays?

Spot the Citadel!
Spot the Citadel!

The bomb proof citadel was built as the Admiralty communications centre in 1940 and is linked by tunnels to government buidings. It has a 6 metre thick concrete roof which was laid with a grass lawn to help camouflage it. Take a look at this British Pathé film of the roof grass being cut and raked back in 1950.

The building is still in use today; I’d love to pop in for a nose around!

More World War 2 sites in London

We only scratched the surface during our trip. Other World War 2 sites in central London which I came across during my research are shown below.

Cabinet War Rooms, King Charles Street: the secret underground bunker used by Winston Churchill during Word War II. We had planned to visit this but ran out of time. Entrance charge applies.

HMS Belfast: highly recommended. This floating museum ship shows how life was on board during and after the second world war. Lots of stairs and ladders so not for those with mobility issues. Entrance charge applies.

Churches: All Hallows-by-the-Tower survived the Great Fire of London but was almost destroyed in the Blitz; you can still see lead from the roof which melted during the bombing. St Dunstan-in-the-East was destroyed in the war but the ruins have also been turned into a public garden.

Air raid shelter signs: can be found in Queen Anne’s Gate, Brook Street and Lord North Street

Memorials: The Cenotaph and Monument to the Women of World War II are both on Whitehall. The Animals in War memorial can be found in Brook Gate, Park Lane.

Have I missed any? Let me know if you can suggest other central London World War 2 sites.

10 things to see in the Land of Lost Content museum, Craven Arms, Shropshire

Sometimes less is more. But not in the Land of Lost Content, a museum dedicated to British popular culture in sleepy Craven Arms. Its three floors are stuffed full of everyday household items collected from the last century. A less kind description might liken it to a hoarder’s house but whilst it might look haphazard the owner, Stella Mitchell, has collated her life’s collection into 32 themed areas.

No photographs are allowed in the museum so I’ve chosen to describe 10 parts of the collection that stood out for me. The museum is so full of memorabilia that if you visit you probably won’t even see these. Yet I defy any adult not to walk into this museum and immediately recognise something from their childhood!

1. Scratchy toilet paper

A bowl full of the awful scratchy stuff I remember from school days in the 1980s. I never thought I’d see this again. Certainly not missed but compellingly tactile.

2. 1960s Kenwood chef food mixer

A design classic. I’ve always wanted a Kenwood Chef, but cannot justify the outlay. Out of interest I looked up the model they have in the museum and you can still buy restored versions today – for more than the cost of a brand new one!

3. Woolworth’s corner

A shrine to Woolworths with closing down posters, a child’s top from the sale and newspapers with headlines announcing the demise of Woollies.

4. Sinclair C5

One man’s view of our future transport; which didn’t quite go to plan. Attached to the ceiling above the stairs. Could you imagine a world where we all drove C5s?

5. Politically incorrect items

A signed Jimmy Saville photograph, Robinson’s golly models and Hitler youth memorabilia. Some may question the continued inclusion of items no longer considered acceptable. But to exclude these would be to deny the past. Better we reflect and appreciate that society has moved on.

6. Sweets

There’s an entire section dedicated to sweets. A half full jar of Roses, a cutout cardboard Milk Tray man and packets of Spangles. There’s even a modern One Direction themed sweet bag. I’m sure it will soon blend in with the rest of the exhibits.

7. Christmas decorations

I’m so used to modern decorations that I had forgotten how bad they were when I was a child. Paper chains, green tissue paper bells and spindly artificial Christmas trees.

8. Mobile telephone from the 1980s

It really was a brick. And only mobile in that it was physically possible to carry it and the battery pack if you had strong arms.

9. Stuffed Jack Russell

Realistically lifelike sitting on a chair. Evidently it arrived in a big box in the post one day. Whilst I’m tempted to send the museum some of my 1980s items, who would send a dead pet through the post?!

10. Technology

It’s often technology that ages the fastest and this is proved perfectly in the museum. A Nintendo gameboy, ZX spectrum, black and white TVs, typewriters; all cutting edge at one point but dated and near enough obsolete now.

As you can see from the above review I was primarily drawn to those items I remember from my childhood. There’s plenty (understatement) to see in the Land of Lost Content museum for all ages although younger children might find some of the dolls and mannequins scary. Our older children enjoyed it as they like to take every opportunity to remind us how old we are and this provided them with plenty of ammunition!

More info

  • The Land of Lost Content museum in Craven Arms, Shropshire is open daily except Wednesday from 9am-5pm from February to November. It is closed in December and January. You’ll struggle with a pushchair or wheelchair as there is very little room between exhibits but there is a stairlift between floors. An adult tickets costs £5, a child’s ticket £2.50.

Taking off at Boscombe Down and Old Sarum, Wiltshire

Have you ever fancied a career as a fighter pilot? If so, I’ve found the perfect place to visit. There aren’t many places in the world where you can imagine yourself in Top Gun but Boscombe Down Aviation Collection in Wiltshire is one of them. Oh, and the kids will probably enjoy it too!

Old Sarum

As we’d driven some distance to reach the museum I thought it prudent to let the kids run off some energy outside so we headed first to the nearby attraction of Old Sarum.

Old Sarum is the original site of Salisbury, although nowadays it’s a couple of miles north of the city. Its hilltop location was home to an Iron Age fort and subsequently used by Romans, Saxons and Normans.

Bridge over to Old Sarum castle
Bridge over to Old Sarum castle

The site consists of the remains of a castle and cathedral. The castle was established by William the Conqueror when he built a motte in the centre of the hill fort. A recent geophysical survey has discovered it once consisted of halls, towers and apartments; very different to how it looks nowadays.

Old Sarum views, Salisbury
Old Sarum views, Salisbury

The site has information boards dotted around to advise what would have once surrounded you. We rather liked the old toilets (pictured above) and the kids enjoyed dropping a few pennies down the well.

Although there’s not much left of the actual castle it’s in a stunning location and has great views, both of Salisbury and the surrounding countryside.

Well at Old Sarum
Well at Old Sarum

Outside of the English Heritage site (and free to visit) you’ll find the cathedral foundations. This was first completed in 1092 but burnt down just 5 days after it was consecrated. Another cathedral took its place a century later. Both the cathedral site and earth banks around the castle appeared to be a well known dog walking route. Unfortunately not all of the dog owners had poop scooped so watch your step!

Old Sarum
Old Sarum

Boscombe Down Aviation Collection

Boscombe Down Aviation Collection is only a mile or so from Old Sarum. It’s located in a hangar next to the airfield on an industrial site although if it wasn’t for the two aircraft outside you’d wonder if you were in the right place.

The aircraft in the collection are associated with the Boscombe Down military flight testing centre. They consist of restored and replica planes and cockpits; each one has an information board next to it detailing its history.

Boscombe Down Aviation Collection
Boscombe Down Aviation Collection

There are 18 cockpits from a variety of aircraft, including a Harrier, Tornado and Sea Hawk. The absolute best thing about this museum is that you are encouraged to sit in all of them, flick the switches and generally pretend you’re flying a fighter jet. This applies to the adults as much as the children! Staff are on hand to point out what all the controls are for and are incredibly knowledgable about the planes.

In the cockpit, Boscombe Down
In the cockpit, Boscombe Down

At the age of 12 I thought my daughter was well past the age of dressing up. How wrong I was. She jumped at the chance of wearing a pilot’s jump suit and helmet throughout the visit. My son wasn’t fussed about dressing up but they both enjoyed ‘flying’ the BAC1-11.

Flying the BAC1-11 at Boscombe Down Aviation Collection
Flying the BAC1-11 at Boscombe Down Aviation Collection

Aside from the cockpits there are 8 full size planes to view, although you are not allowed to enter these. These include a restored Sea Harrier which saw action in the Falklands Conflict. 

There are also a couple of helicopters, weapons, aircraft models and engines. The helicopters don’t have rotor blades but my son was initially hesitant of sitting in them after the lady on the entrance desk mentioned that a child had been able to start one previously.

Boscombe Down jets
Boscombe Down jets

Towards the end of our visit one of the staff offered to take the kids in the trainer, a Link flight simulator. They had great fun, although I’m not sure I’d want to go in a real plane with them as they’d crash it before long!

We all loved the museum. Even if planes aren’t your thing it’s an unusual way to spend a couple of hours and just as enjoyable for us adults as it was for the kids.

More info

  • Old Sarum is open daily except over Christmas and New Year. It’s an English Heritage site so is free to members, otherwise it’s £4.40 for adults and £2.70 for children.
  • Boscombe Down Aviation Collection is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-6pm. They’re closed Mondays except on Bank Holidays. A family ticket costs £23. I’d suggest the collection is best for primary school or older children rather than pre-schoolers as access to the cockpits involves climbing up short ladders.

Discovering Stratford-upon-Avon without Shakespeare

We live relatively near to Stratford-upon-Avon but I’ve never felt the need to follow the Shakespeare tourist trail. If this is your kind of thing I can assure you there’s plenty to keep you entertained in the town. But it doesn’t float our family boat. Instead we spent some time exploring Stratford’s alternative attractions.

The MAD museum

Described as a centre of Kinetic Art and Automata the Mechanical Art and Design museum is a great place to visit if you like marble runs. The museum, well hidden in the centre of town, is full of moving models and mechanical sculptures. It’s the kind of place that Wallace and Gromit would enjoy.

MAD museum
MAD museum

Around half of the models are variations on the marble run theme. We pressed the white buttons underneath each exhibit and watched mesmerised as the marbles flowed through.

MAD museum models
MAD museum models

The other exhibits were moving models, for example men fishing in a boat. The level of detail and amount of work which went into designing and creating them was phenomenal. This may explain why some exhibits appeared to be for sale at exorbitant prices but it also made it feel more like a gallery than a museum.

mad_museum1

My daughter enjoyed the interactive LED display which lit up as she moved her hand across it. Both kids had great fun with a clapping machine. Stand in front of it, clap loudly and hopefully it will clap back. Except my daughter could never quite manage to clap loud enough!

Although it’s relatively small we spent a good hour playing with the models. Whilst I felt the entrance price was a little on the high side it’s a one of a kind attraction and well worth a visit for novelty value.

Stratford-upon-Avon canal

We stayed overnight in a hotel right next to the canal. Having over-indulged in a fantastic Greek meal the previous evening and an all you can eat breakfast we felt the need to walk off a few calories.

Stratford-upon-Avon canal
Stratford-upon-Avon canal

Wrapped up warm against the biting wind we headed out along the canal path. It wasn’t the most picturesque of walks as we were mainly passing industrial units. Yet there was still plenty of bird life to be seen even if I couldn’t spot the bullfinch my other half pointed out. If the weather had been warmer we’d have walked further out into the countryside but even so, it was good to get out and stretch our legs.

Stratford Butterfly Farm

I have already mentioned the cold. So where better to escape it than a heated butterfly house. Oh how I wish it could be this warm all the time.

The farm always has around 1500 butterflies flying. I don’t think we saw anywhere near this number but there were more than enough to ooh and aah over.

It is, of course, a photographers paradise, as evidenced by the amount of photographic gear many visitors carried. The butterflies were certainly photogenic, even if they wouldn’t stay still at crucial moments!

Stratford butterfly farm
Stratford butterfly farm

It’s not just butterflies; there are huge fish, an iguana and lots of non insect eating birds in the glasshouse too. There’s a separate section which houses spiders and insects and another room for caterpillars. I think it was possibly the wrong time of year to be looking for caterpillars as we didn’t manage to see any. Either that, or we were just useless at spotting them.

Stratford butterfly farm
Stratford butterfly farm

After a couple of hours we’d warmed up but couldn’t really justify spending any longer in the butterfly house. We walked over the river and back into Stratford for one last coffee shop stop.

So we managed a weekend without Shakespeare. I feel slightly guilty that we didn’t introduce our children to the world’s greatest writer but we had fun and enjoyed family time together. I’m sure the Bard would have approved.

More info

  • Although we only live an hour away from Stratford we stayed overnight at the Premier Inn Waterways hotel so that we could enjoy a birthday meal out. If you book early enough and are flexible with dates you’ll pay from £39 for a family room. It’s a typical Premier Inn; if you’ve stayed in one before you’ll know exactly what it’s like.
  • We ate out at El Greco, a Greek restaurant in central Stratford. We chose the fixed price menu which was excellent value with good size portions. The restaurant is very accommodating to children with either a separate menu or smaller portions of the main food. The only downside is that it is very popular and we ended up eating at 5pm as this was the only time a table was available. Book ahead!
  • The MAD museum is generally open year round except for Christmas and New Year. However it does close occasionally for maintenance days so check the website before you visit. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children (age 6-12) costs £19. Children age 5 and under are free. We visited late afternoon when it was quiet but I imagine it gets pretty crowded on a wet day during half term.
  • The Stratford Butterfly Farm is open daily from 10am except Christmas Day. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £18.50.