On Sunday 15th, I was up in Manchester (Old Trafford, to be precise) to watch Tottenham play Man Utd and rather than just visit the Theatre of Dreams, ( or on this particular day, Theatre of nightmares – Tottenham lost 3-0!), I made a day of it and visited the Imperial War Museum North.
The good news is that admission to the museum is free, although you are encouraged to buy a souvenir guide book for £5.00. To be fair, it is well worth doing, as the guide is beautifully produced. The building itself is spectacular and the setting in Salford Keys is also superb. There are plenty of iconic buildings around and for those interested, the museum is right next to the Coronation Street Studios. For an even better view of the area , you can ride in a lift to a viewing platform at the top of the museum, a trip worth taking.
The museum itself is thoughtfully designed with plenty of space. The restaurant/cafeteria is well placed with lovely views over Salford Keys. There is a high Graphic/pictorial content to most of the exhibits and whilst this is very well done, I felt that it was too much so in places. The Museum tells the story of War in the Twentieth Century and in this respect does a good job for the casual historian, particularly for children. The exhibits are quite First World War ‘heavy’ – understandable, given it is the Centenary of this conflict. However, this means that other conflicts are very much overlooked. For example, I could only see one small reference to the Falklands War, in an Argentinian News paper that was on display.
Where the Museum disappoints is the lack of hard exhibits given the space available. From memory, there were just five ‘show piece’ exhibits. A T55 outside the museum, and inside a T34/85, A U.S. Marine version of the Harrier, the AV-88B (a strange choice, given that the Harrier is a British invention and it’s role in the Cold War and the Falklands), a Sopwith Camel ( I think – it was suspended from the ceiling in the darkness!) and an unusual mine resistant vehicle from the Rhodesian conflict.
There were plenty of smaller exhibits, such as handguns, rifles etc but even here they seemed sparse. I don’t actually remember seeing an AK-47, a poor state of affairs given it’s role in every modern conflict since WW2. I was intrigued by the nuclear bomb on display! It is frightening to see just how small they are now. The small section on the Cold war and the nuclear threat was quite chilling. It is scary to think that in 1976, the government was still sending out protect and survive leaflets – in fact if memory serves me correctly, this happened again in the 80’s with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Building a nuclear fall out shelter in your house using a couple of doors & some pillows seems to be a bit desperate now.
The final nod to modern conflicts is a piece of the wreckage from the twin towers World trade Centre 9/11 attack. A sobering reminder of many of ongoing conflicts in the news today.
So to sum up, if you are in the area, the Museum is well worth a visit as a general overview to warfare and history in the twentieth Century. It’s certainly a good introduction for children, with plenty for them to look at. However, I would have been disappointed if I had driven up to Manchester just to visit this museum. There are plenty that are better and the lack of military hardware on display and the lack of detail and depth to the exhibits is a let down to what could be a much better facility.