I’m pretty sure there’s nothing more romantic than spending Valentine’s Day underground, in a WWII era bunker. In all seriousness, it has to be up there (and I mean this in a non-sarcastic manner) with the Valentine’s Day when my boyfriend took me for afternoon tea and then to the London Dungeons (he knows me so well), so I was really glad we found out about the event before it was sold out! It did cost £17.50 apiece, but that’s what admission to the Churchill War Rooms costs anyway (though really, £17.50?! I know I complain about admission prices on here a lot, mainly because I am broke, but the Churchill War Rooms admission is really over the top. Definitely take advantage of the National Rail 2 for 1 offer if you decide to come here!), and I was hoping we’d have time to look around in between all the special activities.
I was initially dismayed at the size of the queue to get in, as waiting for entry to a ticketed event typically doesn’t bode well, but the crowds thinned out as we made our way into the bunker. The special activities on offer included writing a letter to your sweetheart overseas (as the whole premise was obviously that this was during the War; most people made an effort to dress the part, which enhanced the atmosphere), swing dancing lessons in the auditorium, and a champagne bar that was meant to be serving up Churchill’s favourite champagne. I’m not sure whether it actually was Churchill’s preferred label; it was certainly delicious, but then, it cost as much for a glass as it does for two bottles of the sort of swill we usually buy (only fit for making mimosas), so I wasn’t expecting anything less.
Sufficiently emboldened by the champers, we took our places on the dance floor for the next swing dancing lesson, a circle dance called the “Big Apple.” It was tremendous fun, and convinced me that I need to get over my fear of looking like an idiot and sign up for some swing dancing lessons, as it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn how to do. Alas, since we were both out there dancing, I’ve no pictures to commemorate the experience, but I’m sure we didn’t look stupid or anything…
People were either all starting to dance or head out for the night at this point, so I seized the opportunity to have a look ’round the relatively empty Churchill museum, which followed the timeline of Churchill’s life. Though you all know I love FDR, I have to concede that Churchill was the master of witticisms, so I was thrilled that the museum had taken the trouble to compile the best ones on a handy touch screen.
I really enjoyed looking at all the Churchill and war memorabilia, even though my lingering cold combined with the champagne meant that I wasn’t giving all the displays my usual full attention. Oh well, I guess I’ll have an excuse to return some day (using my 50% off English Heritage discount of course).
In addition to the museum displays, there was of course the bunker, which, whilst nowhere on the scale of Kelvedon Hatch (but then Kelvedon Hatch isn’t built under prime real estate in Westminster), was still enough of a maze to get us confused when trying to find Churchill’s bedroom. He only spent three nights in the actual bunker, but he stayed fairly often in the aboveground rooms, which were apparently much plusher. A volunteer regaled us with some amusing Churchill stories, like the time the bunker had to be evacuated because it was filling with smoke, only for the staff to realise that this was because Churchill was sitting on the chimney, smoking a cigar.
Churchill’s bedroom contained an authentic cigar, and a chamberpot, so that was exciting too! The other rooms that were part of the bunker, including the Map Room and various Communications rooms, all had delightful mannequins in them – bonus! There was also a cafe serving up some tasty looking chips, but the queue was long and there was nowhere to sit, so we abandoned the idea of eating there. The shop was offering a 10% discount on the night of the event, so I took advantage of the sale to snap up yet more postcards for my ever-expanding collection.
This had to have been one of the better late museum openings I’ve attended (even at that price, and you all know I’m a cheapskate, so I must have liked it!), definitely helped along by the dancing and champagne, but I think the Churchill War Rooms are well worth visiting even without a special event on (though I was glad of an excuse to get all dressed up – I swear my hair looked much better before I had to brave 60 mph winds!). 4/5 for the event + museum. (And for evidence of the extreme windiness that night, please see the picture on the bottom right.)