- IWM HISTORY -

From London to Duxford and Beyond

LINKS to pages in the IWM Duxford site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

     1 : IWM History
     2 : IWM Duxford History
     3 : Indoor Displays
    4 : Outdoor Displays

HOME PAGE : Imperial War Museum Duxford

HOME PAGE : Colin Day's Links



'IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUMS' ('IWM') is a national British museum organisation with branches at five locations in England, three of which are in London.

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"'.

Originally housed in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill, the museum opened to the public in 1920. In 1924 the museum moved to space in the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, and finally in 1936 the museum acquired a permanent home which was previously the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark.

The outbreak of the Second World War saw the museum expand both its collections and its terms of reference, but in the post-war period the museum entered a period of decline. The 1960s saw the museum redevelop its Southwark building, now referred to as Imperial War Museum London, which serves as the organisation's corporate headquarters. During the 1970s the museum began to expand onto other sites.

The first, in 1976, was an historic airfield in Cambridgeshire now referred to as IWM Duxford. In 1978 the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Belfast became a branch of the museum, having previously been preserved for the nation by a private trust. In 1984 the Cabinet War Rooms, an underground wartime command centre, was opened to the public.

From the 1980s onwards the museum's Bethlem building underwent a series of multimillion-pound redevelopments, completed in 2000. Finally, 2002 saw the opening of IWM North in Trafford, Greater Manchester, the fifth branch of the museum and the first in the north of England. In 2011 the museum rebranded itself as IWM, standing for 'Imperial War Museums'.

The museum's collections include archives of personal and official documents, photographs, film and video material, and oral history recordings; an extensive library, a large art collection, and examples of military vehicles and aircraft, equipment and other artefacts.

The museum is funded by government grants, charitable donations and revenue generation through commercial activity such as retailing, licensing, and publishing. Admission is free to IWM London and IWM North, but an admission fee is levied at the other branches.

The pictures at the Bethlem branch of the IWM in London (above and below) were taken in 2009.





IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, DUXFORD (aerial photograph with acknowledgement to 'Classic Wings Flight Training' based at Duxford) is a branch of the Imperial War Museum near the village of Duxford in Cambridgeshire, England.

Britain's largest aviation museum, Duxford houses the museum's large exhibits, including nearly 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and minor naval vessels in seven main exhibitions buildings.

The site also provides storage space for the museum's other collections of material such as film, photographs, documents, books and artefacts. The site accommodates a number of British Army regimental museums, including those of the Parachute Regiment (named Airborne Assault) and the Royal Anglian Regiment.

Based on the historic Duxford Aerodrome, the site was originally operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the First World War. During the Second World War Duxford played a prominent role during the Battle of Britain and was later used by United States Army Air Forces fighter units in support of the daylight bombing of Germany.

Duxford remained an active RAF airfield until 1961. After the Ministry of Defence declared the site surplus to requirements in 1969 the Imperial War Museum received permission to use part of the site for storage. The entirety of the site was transferred to the museum in February 1976.

In keeping with the site's history many of Duxford's original buildings, such as hangars used during the Battle of Britain, are still in use. Many of these buildings are of particular architectural or historic significance and over thirty have listed building status, with Duxford 'retain(ing) the best-preserved technical fabric remaining from [an historic airfield] up to November 1918' and being 'remarkably well-preserved'.

The site also features a number of purpose-built exhibition buildings, such as the Stirling Prize-winning American Air Museum, designed by Sir Norman Foster. The site remains an active airfield and is used by a number of civilian flying companies, and hosts regular air shows.

The site is operated in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council and the Duxford Aviation Society, a charity formed in 1975 to preserve civil aircraft and promote appreciation of British civil aviation history.



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