Image by Samu KoskiASMU photography Samu Koski
Fronted by a pair of intimidating 15in naval guns and a piece of the Berlin Wall, this riveting museum is housed in what was the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital also known as Bedlam. Although the museum’s focus is on military action involving British or Commonwealth troops largely during the 20th century, it covers war in the wider sense. Must-see exhibits include the state-of-the-art First World War Galleries and Witnesses to War in the forecourt and atrium above.
Indeed, Witnesses to War is where you'll find everything from a Battle of Britain Spitfire and a towering German V-2 rocket to a Reuters Land Rover damaged by rocket attack in Gaza.
On the 1st floor, A Family in Wartime poignantly follows WWII through the experiences of the real-life Allpress family of Stockwell. In Secret War on the 2nd floor, there’s an intriguing look at the work of MI5 and MI6, such as rubber soles resembling feet worn underneath boots to leave ‘footprints’ on enemy beaches. One of the most challenging sections is the extensive and harrowing Holocaust Exhibition (not recommended for under 14s), the entrance of which is on the 4th floor. Curiosities of War is a mix of historical items, and includes a section of the World Trade Center in New York. Other galleries and exhibition spaces are given over to temporary exhibitions (check the website for details).
Augustus Pugin, famous Gothic Revival architect of the interior of the Houses of Parliament, was once a patient in the psychiatric ward of the former Bethlem Royal Hospital. The public was allowed to visit the hospital to gawp at the patients, thus the name Bedlam came to mean a 'scene of confusion and uproar'. The hospital moved in 1930 and the building became home to the Imperial War Museum in 1936.