Imperial War Museums (IWM) is a British national museum organisation with branches at five locations in England. Founded as the Imperial War Museum in 1917, the museum was intended to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its Empire during the First World War. The museum’s remit has since expanded to include all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces have been involved since 1914. As of 2012, the museum aims “to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and ‘wartime experience'”
The museum has occupied the former Bethlem Royal Hospital on Lambeth Road since 1936. The building remained substantially unchanged until vacated by the hospital in 1930. After the freehold was purchased by Lord Rothermere, the wings were demolished to leave the original central portion (with the dome now appearing disproportionately tall) and Smirke’s later wings. When the museum moved into the building in 1936 the ground floor of the central portion was occupied by the principal art gallery, with the east wing housing the Naval gallery and the west wing the Army gallery. The Air Force gallery was housed in the former theatre. The first floor comprised further art galleries (including rooms dedicated to Sir William Orpen and Sir John Lavery), a gallery on women’s war work, and exhibits relating to transport and signals. The first floor also housed the museum’s photograph collection. The second floor housed the museum’s library in its west wing, and in the east wing the map collection and stored pictures and drawings. This division of exhibits by service, and by civil or military activity, persisted until a wide-ranging redisplay of the galleries from the 1960s onwards. In September 1972 the building received Grade II listed building status.
Before the 2013-14 redevelopment, the basement was occupied by permanent galleries on the First and Second World Wars, and of conflicts after 1945. The ground floor comprised the atrium, cinema, temporary exhibition spaces, and visitor facilities. The first floor included the atrium mezzanine, education facilities, and a permanent gallery, Secret War, exploring special forces, espionage and covert operations. The second floor included the atrium viewing balcony, two art galleries, a temporary exhibition area and the permanent Crimes against Humanity exhibition. The third floor housed the permanent Holocaust Exhibition, and the fourth floor, a vaulted roof space, accommodated the Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Opened in November 2010 the gallery exhibits the museum’s Victoria Cross (VC) and George Cross collection, alongside the private VC collection amassed by Michael Ashcroft, 241 medals in total.
10am – 6pm every day
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