Imperial War Museum - History and Facts | History Hit

Imperial War Museum

London, England, United Kingdom

The Imperial War Museum is a London-based museum dedicated to world conflict.

Antara Bate

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is dedicated to exploring worldwide conflicts throughout history. The exhibitions in the London Imperial War Museum cover, amongst other things, different aspects of the First and Second World Wars including military history, the Holocaust, women’s roles in the conflicts, wartime artwork and the political issues of the time.

The Imperial War Museum is particularly child-friendly, with temporary exhibitions such as a reconstruction of a World War One trench.

Imperial War Museum history

The Imperial War Museum was founded on 5 March 1917 upon the approval of a proposal by Sir Alfred Mond MP for the creation of a national war museum to record events that were still unfolding during the Great War. The concept of this national war museum was to record experiences during the war, both civilian and military but collecting and displaying material and to commemorate the sacrifices of all sections of society.

Following an interest taken by the Dominion governments, the museum was renamed the Imperial War Museum. It was formally established by Act of Parliament in 1920 and a governing board of Trustees was appointed.

On 9 June 1920, the Imperial War Museum was officially opened in the Crystal Palace by King George V. From 1924 to 1935 it was housed in two galleries adjoining the former Imperial Institute, South Kensington. On 7 July 1936, the Duke of York, shortly to become King George VI, reopened the museum in its present home on Lambeth Road, South London, in what was the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric facility also known as Bedlam.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the museum’s remit was extended and a collecting programme began. Vulnerable collections were evacuated to stores outside London and the museum was closed to the public from September 1940 to November 1946. There were more than 40 incendiary hits on the building during the war, which caused varying amounts of damage.

During the 1970s and 1980s IWM underwent a period of unprecedented expansion, with the establishment of three new branches – IWM Duxford in 1976, HMS Belfast in 1978 and Churchill War Rooms in 1984. The fifth member of the IWM family, IWM North, opened in Trafford, Greater Manchester, on 5 July 2002.

Imperial War Museum today

IWM has therefore continued to collect every type of evidence documenting its very broad remit. Its collections are vast and rich, and in addition to its role as a museum, IWM is also a major national art gallery, a national archive of written and audiovisual recourse, and a centre for research.

Although the museum’s focus is on military action involving British or Commonwealth troops, largely during the 20th century, it also covers war in the wider sense.

The museum’s mission is to be a global authority on conflict and its impact on people’s lives. The museum underwent a major refurbishment that was revealed in 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the start of World War One.

The museum’s tone darkens as you ascend. On the third floor, the Holocaust Exhibition (not recommended from under-14s) traces the history of European anti-Semitism and its nadir in the concentration camps. Upstairs, Crimes Against Humanity (unsuitable for under-16s) is a minimalist space in which a film exploring contemporary genocide and ethnic violence rolls relentlessly.

Getting to the Imperial War Museum

IWM London is around a 7 minute walk from Lambeth North, a 10 minute walk from Elephant & Castle and a 14 minute walk from Waterloo stations. It is also easily accessible by bus and it on the 344 and 360 bus routes.  The C17 cycle superhighway runs past the museum from Elephant & Castle. There is limited parking around the museum.


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