MuSEEum team recently got together in London to explore the most unconventional museums in town. Here, we are sharing with you some great memories of visiting Churchill War Rooms, member of Imperial War Museums group, and its small but very attentively curated shop. It is precisely the attention to details and a lot of passion for the subject matter that contributed to a great experience of visiting the museum. We spoke to Laura Mallins, Buying Manager at Imperial War Museums, and Kieran Whitworth, Book and Audio Visual Buyer & Online Shop Manager, about what makes their job so special – Sir Winston Churchill.
The layout of Churchill War Rooms museum is very unusual and immediately immerses a visitor in the historical context. How did it affect the concept of the shop?
Laura Mullins, Buying Manager at Imperial War Museums: We really wanted the shop to be an extension of the rooms within the War rooms and Churchill Museum rather than just an added on extra so we’ve tried to keep the design sympathetic to the building and to build on its character. The War rooms are also listed so there is a limit to what we are allowed to do, the layout of the shop is therefore fairly limited. We’ve tried to use material that have an authoritative feel, materials that reflect Churchill’s character.
We know that you have recently revamped the shop. What were the main reasons for it and main challenges on the way?
Laura Mullins: The shops hadn’t been refitted in several years and visitor numbers to Churchill War rooms have grown in recent years so it was time for a redesign. We needed a new shop that could better cope with our visitor numbers and help to display the unique products we source and develop. The main challenge was that fact that we couldn’t change the size of the shop as space in the War rooms is so limited, We therefore had to be clever with the design to maximise the potential selling space.
We loved the wast selection of books on Churchill in the shop. Can you tell us a bit more about your favorite fiction and historical items?
Kieran Whitworth, Book and Audio Visual Buyer & Online Shop Manager at Imperial War Museums: There are many books on the things Churchill said but we find most take different angles and are presented in uniquely different ways, such as one bestseller,"Churchill in Quotes" which weaves his quotes together with famous photos. Another unique book, is "Churchill’s Cookbook", released by IWM last year which looks at the food cooked for Churchill when Prime Minister during the war, offering a glimpse into his daily routines. For fiction, there is less choice as Churchill is such a powerful figure that many have chosen not to immortalise him in their fictional work, but "The Happy Warrior" is a great example of a book based on Churchill’s life using a popular 1950’s comic strip.
How about myths and truths on Churchill and WWs? Which ones are your most and least favorites? We, for example, were surprised to learn Churchill loved painting and enjoyed it in his pastime.
Laura Mullins: Here are a few interesting facts about Churchill.
Churchill built the wall around the garden at his family home Chartwell, which also included a one-room cottage for his daughters. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/publications/finest-hour/260-finest-hour-157/3045-churchill-as-bricklayer
There is a metal cabinet in the corridors of CWR with Downing street painted on it. It is said that this is where Churchill kept his brandy and bananas.
Churchill liked to go on the roof of the building during air raids to watch the action.
Churchill had baths twice a day and once held a meeting with President Roosevelt whilst he was in the bath.
For your audience, would you say Churchill is mostly interesting as a political figure or rather a human being?
Laura Mullins: This is quite difficult to answer as it isn’t something that we have ever been asked before - we try and show all parts of his life, both public and private, side by side. We think people are interested in the total figure, both aspects are interesting for different reasons and in a way go hand in hand.
You've got some incredible gift range including the reproduced version of Churchill's pen or Spitfire cuff links. Do people come to you in search of historical memorabilia?
Laura Mullins: Yes we have a lot of online sales from people who are looking for something unique and Churchill related. We have tried very hard to develop a range of products that appeals to a board range of people and budgets. Some of our best-selling lines are based on Churchill’s famous quotes or items that reflect his character.
The memorabilia and reproductions are of highest quality, has it ever happen that museum shop items were used in TV, film or theatre?
No I’m afraid we haven’t had any requests for this
Your visitors must be mainly people interested in history, has it ever happened that and unprepared visitor would wonder in? Or maybe vice versa - a historian, who would doubt authenticity and critique something?
No this hasn’t happened.
Churchill is of course famous for his quotes and you've got a lot of nice items sharing them. Can you tell us what are the most popular quotes?
Laura Mullins: Churchill was a fantastic wordsmith and many of his quips, quotes and speeches are very popular. In our product range the quote ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweet’ does very well on a range of homewares, this quote was taken from Winston Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister in the House of Commons on 13th May 1940, he was seeking a confidence vote in the new government, which passed unanimously. Churchill declared during the speech that he had nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Four of his important speeches from the Second world War were recorded in the War rooms.
Share with us your current favorite shop picks? We'd love your insight to help us choose a perfect gift for parents, friends, someone special and kids!
Laura Mullins: This is a great quote, I like the modern way we have worked it into the design of this mug
Churchill famously wore a pocket watch, I love the contemporary take this has on such a traditional watch.
Designed exclusively for the Imperial War Museums by British company Quail Ceramics. Churchill’s association with bulldogs was thanks to his ‘bulldog spirit’ which helped unite the nation, leading Britain to victory in the Second World War.
These original reconditioned working telephones were produced in the 1930s using Bakelite. Their affordability meant they were extremely popular, quickly becoming the standard telephone used throughout the country. Many can be seen on a visit to CWR and its great that you are taking home a piece of history if you buy one.