The other day I headed to London Bridge to investigate Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience, a peculiar attraction on Tooley Street next to the London Dungeon that opened in 1992.
This strange place attempts to recreate the experience of wartime London feels rather like a private collection of eccentric memorabilia that has been thrown together in a space under a railway arch. There are no shiny monitors and well-lit cases; some of the labels are handwritten.
I quite liked it, although not at the £13 it would have cost if Laura at About London hadn’t got me in for free.
It begins with a film screened in a mocked-up air raid shelter, features various displays about life in London during the war (evacuation, fashion, rationing, entertainment, land girls), has a real Anderson Shelter to sit in and ends with a gloriously dramatic and gruesome life-size reconstruction of a bombed pub, complete with smoke and severed limbs.
What I liked best, were the waxworks. You don’t get many waxworks in museums these days but there are loads at the Britain At War Experience and they are mostly terrible. Unfortunately, I only managed to photograph a couple, missing out on the frightening one of a small child asleep in an air-raid shelter, looking like a little corpse, and also a brilliant Winston Churchill with a head the size of Gibraltar (this may in fact be physically accurate).
But here are the ones I got.
This one is quite normal. It’s a man using a switchboard. It shows what they can do with waxworks when they put their mind to it.
But then they get progressively weirder. This woman with a massive nose is demonstrating wartime fashion, although I think she is actually a man who dresses like a woman to avoid war service and because he likes the freedom it offers him.
This woman is a fire warden with a bad back.
At the end, in the bombed pub, this woman can be seen bravely selling tea even though she has clearly suffered terrible burns and should be taken to the nearest hospital. This could be to demonstrate the implacability of London spirit during the Blitz, or it could be because they ran out of artificial hair.
So there you go, if you like weird wartime waxworks and have thirteen quid to spare, get down to Tooley Street before they all come alive and take over the London Bridge Quarter.