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Never was so much owed by so many to so few
The Imperial War Museum North (Manchester)
Member Name: drakesdrum
The Imperial War Museum North (Manchester)
Date: 05/08/09, updated on 05/08/09 (130 review reads)
Advantages: Lots of interesting things
Disadvantages: Building is a bit odd, not all that easy to get to as a pedestrian.
On a waterfront setting, it's easily accessible by car both by travelling from the Manchester city centre or from the M60 ring-road. The museum is a few minutes away from Old Trafford football ground, which is difficult to miss so that's a useful guideline. It is clearly signposted around the area and it isn't difficult to find at all. For parking there is a large car-park on site. You have to pay to stay there but it's only a small charge and as you well see later, this is perfectly acceptable. For me it was anyway, I paid £3 which covered an ample time.
Luckily for me, I got a lift here with a friend who was also coming. With me being a mere pedestrian usually, I can imagine it is more difficult to get to as a pedestrian. I think the easiest way is going by tram to Harbour City, from there it will take approximately 15/20 minutes walk, which isn't too bad. Alternatively, buses run to the close by Trafford Park, I believe it's the 250 service that begins in Piccadilly Gardens. You could walk it from Manchester city centre but it would take just over an hour which is too much for many people
The building itself was designed by one of these swanky archietects knocking around these days and won't be to everyone's taste. It's a modern building with lots of metal and concrete. The archietect says he imagined the world split into sections and he put them together. The three main pieces symbolise the three areas of combat, land, sea and air. I'm not usually a fan of buildings like this but for this museum it didn't bother me too much. Maybe that's because the museum is fairly isolated in it's position and the buildings that are around are mostly modern too so it dosn't look out of place. It has good accessibility for wheelchair users.
The museum is free to get in, which is great. They don't thrust donation boxes in your face at every available opportunity either so it made for a great, cheap day out. So, now you can see why I didn't mind the small car-park charge, I mean they have to make some money from somewhere.
I found the staff to be friendly and helpful. Many of them are volunteers which often means they are passionate about the museum content, so they are good for information you may need and such like. The museum attracts a lot of school trips and from what I saw they were good with children too.
The museum has plenty for kids to keep interested in. There are interactive computer screens, things to smell, things to play with etc. When I was there many of them were having great fun trying to find these 'stamp stations' where they would collect different stamps on their card around the museum. That was a good touch and kept them occupied whilst the adults read some of the more complex stories and exhibits.
The museum is well laid out and is split into two sections, one of the main hall which remains at a constant throughout the year. The other half is a specialist area, the exhibit changes every few months. At the moment it's all about POW camps which I found fascinating. There are many stories of prisoners making cameras with scraps they found around the camp, escape stories, that sort of thing. There are lots of photographs from the prisoners that smuggled their handmade cameras around which is great and gives you a sense of atmosphere. Seeing their faces as they went through the motions of prison life, the emotion on their faces as they were about to be freed etc.
There were many items that were interesting, such as letters sent whilst prisoners were in the camp. There was particular poem there that was beautiful and poignant that I hadn't known about before and indeed, it seems google is non the wiser. Unforunately I didn't have enough time to copy it down but I found reading poems like this in the flesh really special. There are things like handmade radios prisoners made, uniforms, medals, paintings the prisoners painted, tools they used, etc. All have extensive notes accompanying them to keep you informed. The information boards around the museum are not overwhelming and are easy to follow, which is good for adults and children alike. Adults will have to explain to children along the way as well though.
The main hall is set-up in chronological order of different wars. The main areas as you would expect are World War One/Two. There is a wealth of information here and items worth looking and reading about. I was particularly pleased to see Bernard Montgomery's famous cap with both an Army and RAF emblem on there. To think that was worn by him as he creeped across the desert, planned D-Day etc in was a really special moment for me. The museum also has vehicles and large weapons dotted around to look at, which is a good touch. However, despite there being many items I can't help but feel they could have more in there. Ok, they are limited on space to a certain degree but I did feel they could fit more in somewhere. Particularly vehicles, especially compared to the Imperial War Museum in London, which has a wealth of vehicles.
The museum is very dark inside but the exhibits are lit nicely. They can't have the lights too bright in them to protect the items inside. The darkness adds to the atmosphere of gloom that is present in times of war. In the main hall, this atmosphere is added to with lots of sounds going on but they aren't annoying and too loud. They act as background noise which is a nice touch. The main hall also has films shown innotively on lots of different walls. When I was there it was a series of recollections about the blitz, different images were on different walls so there was a lot going on. You are surrounded by these images so it was a good experience and certainly different to simply watching a television. I liked this a lot, the film was very well made and I liked looking all around and seeing something different.
There is a cafe/restaurant on site and typical of most museums, it is quite pricey. The choice of food isn't great either but it's not too bad. Me and my friend managed to find lunch we liked anyway. The cafe/restaurant has good views across the water and from what I worked out, the new BBC building.
There is also a shop on site which is good. It has lots of books, DVDs, posters, bits and pieces, postcards, flags, etc. All the books are sold at RRP so it's probably best to buy them elsewhere but I found a book there I had never heard about before that I liked so I took a note of it. The World War Two posters are very good and would look great on a bedroom/study/even living room wall as a nice quirky touch. They are reprints of the orginial posters put up around Britain during that war. There are also lots of things that children would like, which depending on your mood that day, is either a good or bad thing!
Another nice feature of the museum is it has a viewing platform. You go up in a lift to a platform high up and it has good views of Manchester and the surrounding areas. It's good seeing the old buildings of the old industry that was once there, mixed with the ever growing areas of development in the Salford Quays area. It is a small charge to go on the platform, I can't remember exactly but it was definitely under a pound per person. When I say it is high up, it's hardly the CNN tower but it provides good views nontheless. It's easy to find at the entrance.
A good museum for children and adults. Not perfect but well worth a visit.
I've been to a a fair few military museums around the world and for me the Imperial War Museum in London takes some beating, this museum is not as good as that but certainly holds its own against other museums.
Summary: A good museum
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