Open House London 2017 ~ That History Girl’s Guide!

Open House London celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! That’s 25 years of making architecture free and accessible to Londoners and the 19 million tourists who visit this beautiful city every year.

The first Open House London was organised by Victoria Thornton on 7th November 1992. It comprised of just 20 buildings. This weekend over 800 homes, museums, schools, palaces, embassies, and many more will open their doors to the public for free! The range of buildings available is simply astounding, and a little daunting when it comes to choosing where to go first, so I’ve made a list of some of my favourites, some of the essentials and some more unusual buildings slightly off the beaten track!

My top tip for the weekend is to volunteer! You get to explore a new building that you might not have chosen otherwise, and to contribute to such a wonderful, educational two days of fun! When you volunteer you also get a badge that lets you queue jump at other sites (except those with pre-booked tours, or public ballots). Trust me, it’s worth it, especially when venues such as The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can have queues going around the block! Oh, and did I mention the volunteers party, where you can meet other like-minded architecture nerds! Sign up here!


The Durbar Court at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Open both Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a must-see! Built in 1861 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and Matthew Digby Wyatt the gorgeous Durbar Court will have you gazing around in awe (it’s also highly instagrammable, for those of you that way inclined). The Grade I listed Victorian building has plenty to see and do, see if you can spot all 12 signs of the Zodiac in one of the ceilings! It’s a fantastic insight into the running of our government, and not usually open to the public, so don’t miss out!




The Ceiling of the Grand Staircase at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Crystal Palace Subway


The Crystal Palace Subway in Bromley was originally built as a passageway leading directly from High Level Station to the Crystal Palace, which burnt down in 1936, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1854. The subway itself was constructed in 1865 under architect Charles Barry Junior. Not normally open to the public you can step into Victorian life! The subway is open all weekend from 11am-4pm, however a capacity of 80 means queues are likely!

Lloyd’s Register Group

Perhaps one of the most photographed and shared buildings in the City, although I swear there’s a new building popping up every week! The original late Victorian building, designed by Thomas Collcutt, was extended by Richard Rogers Partnership, winning a RIBA award! Although only limited areas are open to the public you can hear a lecture about Richard Rogers’ expansion every half hour. Download the Open House app to see all the other buildings nearby to visit while you’re there! N.B. Lloyd’s Building is only open Saturday 10am-5pm.



A view of The Hackney Empire from the stage. 

Hackney Empire


Hackney Empire was somewhat of an accidental discovery! I signed up to volunteer late last year, and figured as a somewhat of a theatre-holic it would be interesting to see it behind the scenes! What a wonderful surprise! Built the same year as the original Lloyd’s building (1901) Frank Matcham’s Hackney Empire is considerably different inside, see how many Art Deco features you can spot! The Hackney Empire was built and used as a Variety Theatre before falling into disrepair. Only 1 tour is running this year, at 9am on Saturday. Book here.



A Hall from a 1630s Middle Class Home at the Geffrye Museum.

Geffrye Museum


The Geffrye Museum is situated in Hackney, and open Saturday 10am-4:30pm, a perfect secondary location to visit after a tour of the Hackney Empire! The Geffrey Museum is situated in an old Alms house, and currently houses a museum dedicated to the history of the middling class, and how their homes have changed over the past couple of centuries. Usually free to enter, the staff are running object handling sessions.





Roof of the Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue, the shape was inspired by the hull of a ship.

Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue Wanstead


The Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue is open Sunday from 10am-4pm. The Synagogue building was originally part of the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum, designed by Somers Clarke, dating back to the 19th century. The rest of the Asylum has since been converted to flats. The building used to house the chapel, and the signs are evident in the architecture and embellishments around the walls. It was converted into a synagogue in 1995. The volunteers here are extremely knowledgeable, and it’s a nice, unusual building.


The Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge.

Another slightly out-of-the-way building, but a must-see for any 20th century history enthusiasts! It was built in 1939, and was part of the main control centre coordinating one of the greatest aerial battles in history! Open both days, 10am-5pm pre-booking is required so check out the Open House website for more details!


Inside Crossrail Place Roof Garden

Crossrail Place Roof Garden

This year Foster + Partners are celebrating their 50th birthday this year, and the Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a shining example of their beautiful architecture! Situated in Canary Wharf, atop the new station, it is a beautiful partnership of architecture and nature. The garden was a collaboration between Foster+ Partners and landscape designer Gillespies Landscape Architects. Gillespies are hosting hourly tours between 10am and 4pm on Saturday.



Trellick Tower

Designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1972, Trellick Tower has become a sacred site for Brutalism enthusiasts! Now a Grade II listed property it encompasses exhibition and education, housing a woodworking workshop, as well as a furniture showcase. Trellick Tower is open Saturday 10:30am – 6pm, and Sunday 11am – 5pm. If you’re a fan of Brutalism you could also check out the Embassy of Slovakia, a RIBA Award winning Modern Brutalist building also situated in Kensington and Chelsea.

I hope you found this mini guide helpful! Let me know what your favourite buildings were this weekend, and any I should add to my list for next year!

Happy Architecture Hunting!!

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Bethnal Green Station; The Hidden Tragedy of WWII

In a war that claimed over 50 million lives, a single incident that lead to 173 deaths can seem like just a drop in the ocean, but the tragedy at Bethnal Green Tube Station still stands out as one of the most devastating incidents in wartime London. What isolates this incident is that, in reality, it was entirely preventable.

In 1936 it was decided that the Central Line would be extended to run beyond Liverpool Street to Stratford. As building the new line was halted during the war the tunnels and stations were left empty, and subsequently East Londons began using Bethnal Green as an air raid shelter, rather than the uncomfortable Anderson and Morisson Shelters provided by the Home Office.
The shelter at Bethnal Green was massive, fitted out with 5,000 bunks, with room for 2,000 more, and complete with library, musicians and entertainers. Londoners whiled away many hours here in the subterranean community while bombs rained down above.


Bethnal Green Station today

On 3rd March 1943 however disaster struck. Following heavy bombing of Berlin London was preparing for retaliation, so when the alarm sounded locals rushed for shelter as usual. The steps down to the shelter were dark, only 1 light illuminated them, there was no markings on the side, or central hand rail, and as was customary London was in Blackout conditions. As East-Enders began making their way down the stairs a lady carrying a baby and a roll of bedding tripped and fell on the stairs, an elderly gentleman tripped over her, and thus began a devastating cascade of human dominoes. In the darkness nobody knew of the danger ahead, and Londoners kept hurrying down the stairs. The arrivals of two buses full of people looking for refuge only accelerated the disaster. A few miles down the road, in Victoria Park new bombs were undergoing secret testing, giving the impression of a German air-raid and only increasing the crushing panic.

In a matter of minutes 173 people were dead, including 62 children. A further 90 were injured. The bodies pulled from the staircase were purple and bruised beyond recognition. One child was only identified by a cobbler, who remembered adding a nail to her shoe the day before!

On the 3rd March 1943 not one German bomb fell on London, in fact, not even one enemy aircraft was spotted, there was no danger to London, and yet there had been huge civilian casualties!  Upon hearing of the disaster Churchill ordered that it be covered up. Survivors and witnesses were told of the importance of their silence, and some never spoke of it in their life times. Churchill believed that news of the Bethnal Green disaster would lead to a huge drop in morale and public spirit, and thus a cover-up was initiated.

It wasn’t until 2 years later that the Home Office released their official reports, along with the autopsy reports from the Police Surgeon. Even to this day no memorial stands to the victims, save a small plaque, which frequently goes unnoticed. The Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust has been fundraising to install a memorial by the tube station, of an inverted staircase. Designed by Harry Paticas, the memorial was entered in to the Royal Academy of Art’s prestigious Summer Exhibition in 2012. Whilst more funds are still needed to complete the memorial, the Trust are still highly active, and every year on 3rd March, a memorial service is held.

Over 70 years later, it is astounding that the deaths were covered up so easily, and that the tragedy is still so unknown! Family members of those killed were given only a pittance as compensation (around £950 for adults and £250 for children), and many took the psychological scars to their graves. A list of those who were injured, or died can be found on the Stairway to Heaven website.


People Power: Fighting for Peace @ The Imperial War Museum 

Fighting for Peace is somewhat of an oxymoron, and today it is seen all too often as the justification for Britain going to war. It is east to forget that the routes of the expression date back to WWI and the conscientious objectors.

People Power: Fighting for Peace is the first exhibition of its kind, you’re taken on a journey through the anti-war movements from WWI to present. Today we live in a world constantly on the brink of war, between North Korea, Trump and Russia the prospect of a hot nuclear war draws ever closer. In light of this the exhibition elicits a more emotive response response than I was expecting!

2017-06-08-17.09.54.jpg.jpegIn 1916, for the first time in the history of the British Army, conscription was introduced. It would last until 1920, and called all men aged 16-41 to join up and fight during the First World War.

Those excluded from conscription included those doing “vital work” on the home front, those with medical conditions or for the sake of their home life. A Military Service Tribunal would determine who got sent to war, and who was saved. There were 16,000 conscientious objectors during the first world war, generally hailing from Quaker families. The Quakers first set up the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in 1914 at the out break of war. Referred to unkindly as “conchies” by other soldiers, they often performed vital work under the new Non-Combatant Corps. William Coltman, a conscientious objector who worked as a stretcher bearer during the war was awarded the Victoria Cross, as well as a Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, Military Medal and Bar, and Mentioned in Dispatches, all without firing a single shot.


CRW Nevinson The Doctor (1916)

The exhibition also looks at the art of war. One of my favourite artists, CRW Nevinson, features heavily throughout the exhibition, including some of his famous works such as Paths of Glory and The Doctor (pictured right). Works by Paul Nash, and handwritten poems by Siegfried Sassoon are also featured.

By the Second World War, pacifism was becoming a recognised movement. When in 1939 the National Services Act was passed around 60,000 conscientious objectors protested. I was surprised to discover Paul Eddington, best known for his roles in The Good Life and Yes Minister was among their number. He hailed from a Quaker family, and spent his war working for with Entertainment National Service Agency, starting his acting career. As with WWI the conscientious objectors were demonised by their fighting comrades. In one of the audio archives in the exhibition, a CO recalls a soldier yelling to others to “throw him into the river” as they were lead past under arrest.

One of the notable pacifists explored by the exhibition is John Bridey, who was a member of RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves). A physics teacher by trade, he refused to fight, but spent his war using his knowledge of physics to diffuse bombs, constantly putting his life on the line to save others.


The longest, and most moving section of the exhibition focuses on the Cold War, and the Ban the Bomb protests. Seamlessly flowing from the attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki which occurred on the 6/9 August 1945 you’re taken into the 1960s. On the wall is states the death toll of the stated nuclear bombs. 215,000 died instantly, a further 155,000 were injured, not to mention those who died later from radiation poisoning. The number is staggeringly vast, the cruelty incomprehensible. It is so easy to forget the scale of this event, very few people alive remember the moment as it happened, and yet if this was to be repeated today the scale and destruction would be considerably worse. The size of nuclear weapons possessed by so many today could wipe out the whole earth 4 times over.

Fighting for Freedom includes many multimedia components, including a soundscape of audiobytes from protests, recorded accounts from various conscientious objectors from each conflict. My favourite multimedia section was the one within the Cold War area. Having visited the York Cold War Bunker (click here to read the blog) it was fascinating to see it from another point of view. The public service video sent out in 1965 to advise British citizens how to build a nuclear shelter/bunker in their home or garden, which is counterposed with the 1965 film The War Game by Ian Dury, which explores the world if the war had gone hot. It is a stark reminder of what could easily come to pass today!

The final room explores protest art, the posters, banners and photographic art produced including video of artist David Gentleman.

Overall the exhibition is incredibly well curated! It took me just over an hour to complete, only listening to half the audio recordings and only watching a section of the final documentary! I went early afternoon on a weekday, and the exhibition was very quiet, although I expect it’s busier on weekend! A very stimulating, emotive, very reasonably priced exhibition!

N.B. Once you’ve finished the exhibition check out the Syria and Afghanistan exhibition on the same floor! They go very well with Fighting for Peace, and only take an extra 40mins-1hr to do both!

Trent Park – The Listeners

Sunday mornings are usually times I reserve exclusively for sleeping, making up the inevitable deficit from the preceding week. Therefore it can be assumed that if any activity is partaken of before 11am, it is probably something pretty good. In this case, it certainly was!

By 10am, I had made my way from North East London to Cockfosters, right at the end of the Piccadilly line, and enjoyed an invigorating walk through the park to the cafe. The invigoration was necessary; having started watching 13 Reasons Why at 10pm the previous night I was running on around 90 minutes sleep (seriously, you can’t stop watching, its gripping!). At the cafe I was greeted by a surprisingly large group of people.

As seems to be my usual method of stumbling upon activities, an event recommended to me by Trent Park’s Facebook page popped up on my news feed, advertising a history walk. As someone who both loves walking, and history, this seemed like the perfect morning plan, and having met over 50 people who had also risen early on a Sunday morning, my sentiments are definitely shared!

I’d first discovered Trent Park after listening to Radio 4 with my grandmother. Having just returned from a trip to Bletchley Park the news of a new museum opening, considered to be Bletchley’s human intelligence counterpart, peaked my interest. Trent Park was one of the secret locations run by British Military branch MI 19 during World War II, used for spying on senior German Officials, aimed at getting them to reveal important information, without duress. MI 19 capitalised on senior officer’s arrogance that, with their senior positions they were entitled to preferential treatment, being allowed to live out the rest of their war in relative comfort. British Spies were sent in, disguised as German officers, expected to build their trust and lead conversations on to matters of German intelligence, such as the plans of the U-boats, whilst intelligence officers recorded the conversations with microphones, and listened in from another region of the house. When Churchill discovered it’s existence, he instantly condemned it, but luckily his ordered were ignored, and the British continued to obtain valuable information about the German Military, saving countless British lives.


Camlet Moat

Trent Park House sits within the gorgeous Trent Country Park, a 320 hectare park. Our history walk too us around the grounds, leading us through the history of the land, from its use as Henry VIII’s hunting ground, to Cromwell selling off the land to pay for his army, to its most recent owner Philip Sassoon (cousin of Sigmund Sassoon, my favourite war poet). The Sassoon family, descended from Iraqi Jews, moved to London quickly rose to High Society.

Sassoon’s hospitality was known across the country, even little Queen Elizabeth, visited the house! He would go to great lengths to be the perfect guest to celebrities from across the globe, and he designed the estate to be the perfect location for entertaining. Visitors such as Charlie Chaplain, George Bernard Shaw, Thornton Wilder and Edward VIII (accompanied by Wallis Simpson) frequented the house, and Winston Churchill even painted the house and its interior on several occasions.


Sassoon’s Obelisk where his guests would gather for some shooting!

In 1924 Sassoon lavishly purchased large quantities of rose bricks from the recently demolished London palace, that once belonged to William Kent. It is from these bricks that the Georgian style house is built from today, designed by architect Philip Tilden. In the grounds, Sassoon designed a beautiful Wisteria Walk, as well as a Japanese Garden and swimming pool. An avid flyer he even build his own Aerodrome, where he housed his Percival Gull, Percival Petrel, de Hallivand DH90 Dragonfly and de Havilland Leopard Moth.

In 1939, just three months before the outbreak of World War II, Philip Sassoon died after developing influenza that spread to his throat, and subsequently to his lungs. After a small private funeral his ashes were scattered over Trent Park.

Trent Park today has subsequently been sold off to property developers Berkeley Homes. After a long campaign, the Save Trent Park campaign,  it was announced that Trent Park would house a new museum. The Trent Park Museum which will occupy part of the ground floor will open in 2019/2020.

For further information check out Trent Park Museum’s website here!

“Monarchy” by David Starkey ~ A Review

I think I have spent more time in charity shops over the past month than the rest of my life combined. Directing a play requiring a lot of furniture on a budget (which I may have gone over, shhh) meant Charity shops became my dramatic lifeline. They’ve subsequently become somewhat of a hobby to search through avidly; conveniently they also match quite nicely with my addiction to the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip. Charity shops have also become the only way I can feasibly afford to buy books. If you have a voracious appetite for books, soaring prices can quickly amount to hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

It was in a little Oxfam bookshop that I stumbled across David Starkey’s Monarchy. I was familiar with his work by reputation, but I hadn’t ever seen any of his TV shows, or indeed read any of his other books. Shamefully, the history of the British Monarchy has been something that always eluded me. Having dropped history at school before GCSE in favour of the easy A* Geography provided (I was a very lazy teenager), my knowledge essentially consisted of the Tudors,  and what I had picked up watching The Crown. Needless to say I was expecting to have the book more as a reference text to dip into when a pub quiz question left us baffled.

I was wrong.  Starkey has such a light, engaging tone of writing that you’re hooked from the moment you start reading! Beginning at the War of the Roses, Starkey takes you on a journey of intrigue; brotherly envy leading to execution by cask of wine, babies concealed in warming pans, treasonous plots, and deadly battle between Parliament and Head of State.

Starkey’s writing is definitely acessible to those for whom  Monarchy is their first dabble into the history of the Royal Family, but equally I’m sure an avid history fan who’s watched every episode of The Tudors, and has every history documentary on Netflix preemptively added to their To Watch List for rainy days, would also find it very engaging.

What I loved about the book was, although I was constantly learning, Starkey never came across as preachy. At no point did I feel patronised, the style was more conversational, albeit one of the most eloquent exchanges you’ll ever have, than teacher and student. Factoids were gently worked in, which unfortunately is not a given in the world of history. I attended a lecture on Jewish history at Senate House a couple of weeks ago, during which dates were simply barked at us whenever a new historical figure was mentioned. On average 3 times a sentence, killing the pace and giving the impression we were simply listening to an essay with superlative parentheses being needlessly read out. Not on Starkey’s watch!
So, in essence, charity shops are fantastic, the history of the British Monarchy is fascinating, and everyone could enjoy Starkey’s delightful book! Easily 5🌟s!

Communist Sofia ~ A Concrete Jungle 

20161204_124647.jpgArriving in Sofia, it is immediately recognisable as a city with a communist past. Concrete flat blocks rise up before you, and every street boasts Stalinist architecture all along its length. Walking through Sofia however, there are no statues of Lenin, or red stars visible, having been ripped down in 1990 when the Communist state fell.

Having decided to take a 4 hour walking tour exploring the Communist history of the city it was clear that even today opinions vary hugely across the population.

Bulgaria’s military history during the Second World War is a fascinating one, with their allegiance changing multiple times over the course of the war, including a period when they were technically at war with every other fighting country in Europe. By the end of the war they had sided with the Red Army. Thus began their communist era.

Championed by Georgi Dimitrov, The Bulgarian Communist Party took power in 1946. Bulgaria then became known as People’s Republic of Bulgaria, a title which would remain until 1990. Before the war Bulgaria, had been known as the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Their rise to power was preceded by a bloody assault on the monarchy. On 1st February 1945 the Regent Prince Kiril, along with hundred of officials who had been prominent in pre-communist Bulgaria, including an ex Prime Minister were accused of war crimes, and around a quarter were subsequently executed 4 months later.



Busts of the Communist leaders of Bulgaria and Karl Marx

During its early years The Bulgarian Communist Party began to outlaw religions. Whilst not explicitly legislating against citizens rights to practice religions they used scare tactics. Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and Temples were hidden away by new buildings, purposefully built around them to mask the existence of sacred buildings. Members of the police, or uniformed members of the party would hover outside said buildings at the times of services, observing those attending religious ceremonies, never acting with hostile intentions, but instead scaring members of the congregation until few people attended organised religious services. The paranoia still exists today; when we visited The Church of St George (a beautiful redbrick rotunda) I took a photo of the exterior and a lady going to a service asked to check my photo to ensure her face wasn’t in the picture.


Painting of Lenin (Nikola Mirchev)

When Dimitrov passed away in 1949 Vulko Chervenkov suceeded him as leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party, whilst not popular within Bulgaria, his main supporter, Stalin had enough influence to allow him to maintain his position for 6 years. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Chervenkov only survived a year before he was replaced by Todor Zhivkov. He stayed on as Prime Minister for another 2 years before Anton Yugov took that position from him too.

Todor Zhivkov had a notably long stay as head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, leading it for 33 years, and in 1962 he also took up the position of Prime Minister, he monopolised control of Bulgaria. One of the biggest controversies of his rule came in the form of the infamous murder of Georgi Markov, a previous friend of Zhivkov, who had been exiled to London following publication of anti-communist works. Markov was murdered in London after a member of the KGB used an umbrella to stab him with a ricin infused pellet on Zhivkov’s birthday in September 1978.

img_20161204_111607.jpgThe Communist government of the Bulgarian people was based near Serdika (now a fantastic site to find Roman ruins) and the party headquarters were adorned with the large red star seen below. This was rumoured to have been made of rubies, however when it was torn down at the end of the Communist era it was found to only be coloured glass. Originally the 12ft statue of Lenin was erected far across the Piazza surveying his Communist Head Quarters, now however this has been replaced by a statue of Saint Sofia. Both the star and the statue can be found at the Museum of Socialist Art which is a little way out of the city center but definitely worth a visit!

By January 15th 1990 the Communist Party was officially no more. It was the end of an era of governing that had cost between 50,000-100,000 lives. Zhivkov’s daughter, Lyudmila Zhivkova, had been responsible for the start of social liberalization in the country and was a force for cultural freedom until her suspicious death in 1981. By Mikhail Gorbachev’s election as President of the Supreme Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR and the Communist movement were losing momentum. In June 1990 Bulgaria held its first multi-party elections in 51 years, The Republic of Bulgaria was born, and the Bulgarian flag no longer included the Communist emblem. The Communist reign in Bulgaria was over.

Pretending to be Lenin

This Day in History ~ Birthday Special 

The 21st of February, as most days are, has proven to be an instrumental historical date across many eras of History; Alan Rickman was born, Silent Witness aired, Rosalind Franklin and some men (who took all the credit) discovered the double helical structure of DNA, and the Battle of Verdun, which claimed a million lives, started.

Whilst searching for historical events that occurred on 21st Feb, I discovered that one of my favourite political texts was published on this day. The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, was published 21st Feb 1848. Originally published in German, The Communist Manifesto was commissioned by The Communist League and has been declared the most influencial text of the 19th century; Move over Jane Austen.

A spectre is haunting Europe – The spectre of Communism 

As many of you know, or will know when next week’s blog on Communist Sofia comes out, communist and socialist history is an area of great interest for me! It fascinates me that since the publication of The Communist Manifesto, despite so many countries and leaders trying to implement communism the world has, as yet, failed to successfully produce a communist state. In every attempt there are enough greedy, as Marx and Engels would call them, Bourgeouis refusing to relinquish their wealth and preventing the system taking full effect.

The manifesto was published far ahead of its time. If we think back to the great Socialist states of Europe and the world we probably think of Mao, Stalin and Lenin first. Their ascent to leadership wouldn’t come about until around 100 years later, although the Manifesto certainly paved the way.

After an enjoyable few months of blogging, I’m looking forward to what this next year will bring! My S/O has planned a birthday trip to Dover Castle for us both, English Heritage opening hours are getting longer,  and later this week I’m off to explore historic Oxford, notably the Degas to Picasso exhibition! So watch this space, there’s a blog in the pipeline for all the awesome historical birthday presents I got this year!

That History Girl ❤


That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 5

Our final day in Oslo had finally arrived. With a flight in the evening we decided to save the Armed Forces Museum till last as it was one we were both interested in, we wanted lost of time there, and it’s free!

2017-01-28-21.13.51.jpg.jpegHoused within the grounds of Akershus Fortress, the museum is huge! Outside cannons, tanks and ambulances greet you as you arrive. The ambulance, it turns out came from the UK, and was on loan for their temporary exhibition on the medical corps.

2017-01-28-21.16.38.jpg.jpegThe museum takes you through military history in Norway, from the Vikings through to modern day conflicts and WWII. The first room focuses on modern conflicts, and Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan, and work with the UN.

Upstairs the rooms are filled with cannons, and models of castles from around Denmark-Norway, as the pairing was then called. Christiania (now Oslo) was the Norwegian capital, whilst Copenhagen was the capitol of the whole country. The models also include castles such as Kastellet, found in Copenhagen on a star shaped island.2017-01-28-21.19.22.jpg.jpeg Medieval weapons, defenses and uniforms are displayed, however some rooms do not have English translations, but have QRS codes which unfortunately don’t work. This room was full of military uniforms, with rank slides and honours which are still a total mystery to us, which was  a shame as it was something we were both interested in!
Returning downstairs there is a very detailed exhibition on how WWII started, and how Norway became 2017-02-15-09.31.20.jpg.jpeginvolved  with the fight. The Resistance Museum had more information on Norwegian citizens  and their actions throughout the war. Having been a neutral state from 1814 to 1940 they only had a 20,000 strong army to defend against the German Army. The Norwegians had been keen to stay out of the fighting across Europe they were not prepared for the advancing German Forces. Had they started recruiting forces earlier they could have increased their forces to 120,000 people. 50,000 Norwegian Men were said to be fighting for Norway during 1940, compared to Germany’s 4.5 million. The final permanent room looked into modern conflicts with the UN, the Cold War, including a mini bunker, the Navy, and ground forces in Afghanistan.

2017-01-28-21.20.24.jpg.jpegThe final room of the museum was an exhibition on Military Medicine. The exhibition housed various pieces of quintessential pieces of medical equipment such as first aid kits, stretchers and technology developed for the military.  Horse drawn ambulances from the first world war, along with modern ambulances used in combat were displayed here.

Tearing ourselves away from the museum, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe for our final time (they have an awesome lunch deal). Our planned afternoon of souvenir shopping was rather disrupted by Spencers/Portico deciding whilst we were thousands of miles away was time to try and sort our broken heating (After we’d waited 6 months for them to get their act together). A delicious lunch later, we headed to the airport.

2017-01-28-21.22.15.jpg.jpegIn 2014 a redevelopment of Oslo Airport was announced. Designed by Gudmund Stokke, under architectural firm Aviaplan. The new departure hall is beautiful! The building is light, airy, with golden fairy lights draped around every pillar. The whole building is clean and very Scandanavian, even the security staff are lovely, when you forget to take your 1l water bottle out of your hand luggage!

After a lovely but exhausting week, it was time to head back to London. Even staying for 5 days I felt there were things I could go back to do/see. I’ll definitely be back! Probably in summer…and when I actually have money!

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 3

Our third day in Oslo marked our excursion out of the city center and to Bygdoy on the other side of the quay. This area houses all the museums related to Norway’s seafaring past. The Oslo pass includes free travel within zones 1 and 2, which includes Bygdoy. A door to door bus ran from just outside Anker Hostel, taking around 30 minutes to get us from A to B.

2016-12-19-20.43.37.jpg.jpegThe Viking Ship Museum houses 3 restored Viking Ships, as well as the items found within various Viking Burial sites unearthed by archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson. The ships are beautiful and striking, and housed within what appears to be an old church, any noise echoes throughout the whole building; it creates a peaceful atmosphere.

The three ships (Gokstad, Oseburg and Tune) each represent an important aspect of Viking archaeology; Tune was the first viking ship ever to be excavated whole in just two weeks, the dig headed by Oluf Rygh. Oseburg was used as a burial ship for 2 noble women in the 9th Century, and its excavation provided crucial information into Viking Death. Filled with weapons, clothes, shoes, carved animal heads, and several animals. Gokstad was also used as a burial ship for a young man killed in battle. His grave contained 12 horses,  8 dogs, 3 small boats, ornate game boards and 2 peacocks.

Although a small museum it is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re interested in history or archaeology!

2016-12-19-20.40.38.jpg.jpegThe Folk Museum lies about a 10 minute walk down the road from the Viking Ship Museum. It was by far the largest museum we had visited! The interior museum was split over 2 floors and 2 building, taking visitors on a long journey through a history of crafts, furniture, weapons and Christmas.

The majority of the museum is outside, so make sure to bring lots of layers, it can be quite biting! The outside portion of the museum houses an imitation of a traditional Norwegian village, with thatched outhouses, some open to the public to show an example of guest houses, kitchens, stables and living rooms. Also within the grounds are a beautiful wooden church (pictured right), and a large house showing the living standards of Norwegians from the 60-90s in the form of model flats.


A short way down the road 3 museums exist on the same lot; The Kon-Tiki Museum, Maritime Museum and the Fram Polar Expedition museum. Unfortunately when we went to visit the Maritime Museum was closed.

2016-12-19-20.35.49.jpg.jpegThe Kon-Tiki Museum was Emily’s favorite! It followed the 2 expeditions of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) and his voyage across the sea on the Kon-Tiki balsalwood raft (pictured right), and his subsequent trips on Ra and Tigris, boats formed from reeds, based on an Egyptian design. For a man with a phobia of open water, he spent an awful lot of time sailing the oceans on vessels scientists promised would not be seaworthy. The museum houses both Kon-Tiki and Tigris, and also has model Easter Island caves, and shows the Oscar winning Kon-Tiki documentary. For a relatively small museum there is plenty to do!

20161219_152813.jpgOur final stop for the day was the Fram Polar Expedition Museum. Billed as the ‘Best Museum in Norway’ we left it till last so we could spend as long as we wanted there. Like Moulin Rouge, we discovered it was grossly oversold. I’m sure if you’re doing a PhD in Polar Expeditions it would be highly engrossing, but given neither of has a particularly deep interest the pages and pages of 20pt type wasn’t particularly gripping. Positives now though! The museum is gigantic, and housed across two buildings, the main attraction in each is a huge polar expedition ship. The larger ship, Fram can be boarded, and a small number of the rooms / cabins / galleys explored. Every 20 minutes, from the deck of Fram a Northern Lights show can be watched, projected onto the white roof of the museum, and a sail, fashioned into a screen.

Visitors can also try out the arctic simulator room, which exposes you to sub zero temperatures. I’m sure in summer this is more enjoyable than winter, when outside temperatures were around -3 degrees to begin with, tho it’s novel none-the-less. Our favorite part of the museum was the kids section, where you could try and navigate using only the stars, and a fake duck shooting range to try your arm at shooting.

The gift shop here is vast, and fairly reasonably priced, a perfect place to pick up your last minute souvenirs, postcards and trinkets.

York Cold War Bunker; Observers Underground

On a cold drizzly Sunday afternoon in York, when we’d exhausted all the coffee shops, and seen all the ‘must see’ tourist attractions we decided to check out an English Heritage site, just outside York. It definitely should have been higher on our priority list!!

Hidden away, surrounded by blocks of flats lies the entrance to the York Cold War Bunker,  only visitable by guided tour. As luck had it the next tour was in 5 minutes. Our tour guide, Anna, was clearly incredibly passionate about the Cold War, and her enthusiasm was infectious! We were the only two people on the tour, and she gave us plenty of scope and opportunity to ask questions as we went round.

This Cold War Bunker was the operational HQ for the Yorkshire division of the Royal  Observer Corps (ROC), a civilian branch of the RAF. Originally formed during WWII to identify enemy planes, the group was stood down at the end of the war, before being reformed during the Cold War to take readings of any nuclear bombs that fell. From the base they could take readings of radiation levels, try and identify where the bomb fell, and what size it was.

1st step on the tour was to watch a short video highlighting some of the history of the Cold War, and the provisions the British Government had in the eventuality the war went nuclear. Having visited a couple of Cold War bunkers in Berlin earlier this year, the difference was stark. The German Government made civilian bunkers, and promised the people they all had a place to go. In fact their bunkers could only hold about 1% of the population, and some took a week to be prepared and made operational. The British Government had a different idea. They showed people how to make their own bunkers at home, to stock with them with food, paint windows white and reinforce them with sandbags. With the ever increasing strength of nuclear bombs being developed these ‘bunkers’ or safe rooms would have been just as futile.

The York Cold War bunker could keep 60 people alive for up to 30 days. Over the course of the 30 days all the inhabitants would work in 3 groups of 20 on an 8 hour rota. 20 people would be working in the operations rooms, 20 people would be in the canteen relaxing, and 20 people would be sleeping in the dorms on a delightful ‘hot bed’ system. When 30 days was over they would all have to leave the bunker and go into what was left of the world above them.

20161113_151811.jpgThankfully the bunker was never needed during the war, although the ROS often ran 48 hour training weekends. So many volunteers couldn’t stand the sleeping conditions even for this fraction of time, and went without sleep, instead of braving the bunk-beds. The photo left shows some of the personal effects of an ROS member on one of the thin beds. No reminders of home, family or friends were permitted in the bunker, as the government feared it would cause psychological damage, not knowing whether friends or family were alive.

20161113_150942.jpgThose posted in the operations room would have a busy 8 hours ahead. They had to collate all the data gathered from other ROC groups around Yorkshire, and combine it with their own data. The equipment pictured right was used by all branches of the ROC. The long cylindrical piece of equipment hanging from the ceiling was a form of gieger counter which would measure radiation levels below ground.

The white cylindrical box was installed on the roof of the bunker, and was used to identify the location of the bomb. Holes had been drilled into the metal container, which housed photosensitive paper.

When a bomb dropped, the initial brilliant flash of light 20161113_150851.jpgwould be registered by a dark dot forming on the gridded paper. The data from all the boxes across Yorkshire would be collated, and using a technique similar to triangulation, the location could be estimated using a map (pictured below). In order to collect the paper from the box , a member of the corps would have to venture outside the safety of the bunker. To ‘protect’ him from the deadly radiation the Government issued a cotton boiler suit, more as a psychological protection than a physical one.

20161113_151736.jpgAs the war progressed more sophisticated technology was developed in computing. A.W.D.R.E.Y. (right) essentially did the same job as the volunteers in terms of locating a bomb’s epicentre. She did have a couple of flaws, including thinking every episode of lightening, or firework was a nuclear bomb. For this reason volunteers continued to perform manual analysis of the data.


Volunteers would collect information from other branches. Sitting in rows like this they would write all incoming data onto the screens, which could be flipped around, so those working below could analyse the information.

20161113_151058.jpgThose working in the room below would work to collate information and locations of bombs over a wider area. Working on huge maps of the North of the UK they would also communicate their findings to other branches and the government.

Cold War bunkers can be either bomb proof, or blast proof. Bomb proof shelters can withstand bombs falling directly onto them, or in the area closely surrounding them. Blast proof shelters can only withstand ‘near-misses’. Having been designed in 1955, before the mass up-scaling of nuclear bomb strength, the York bunker could only survive a ‘near-miss’ 8 miles away, from a small bomb. If anything fell closer the shelter would have been flattened, or incinerated.

20161113_155238.jpgIn the wake of recent political events (damn you Trump) the likelihood of a hot war seems to be ever increasing. Unfortunately this bunker would provide very little protection in the event of a nuclear bomb falling on Britain. The increasing payload of modern nuclear bombs makes survival chance much smaller, and if the bunker wasn’t flattened the vital equipment needed to sustain life has probably been decommissioned now. The air-conditioning unit contains materials now banned by the EU, batteries no longer work, and air filtration systems have never been tested. If the government does find itself in a situation where nuclear bunkers become necessary, chances are they’ll just make new ones. That seems to be the 21st century way!

When English Heritage decided to save York Cold War Bunker, they found it in a state of disrepair. The sewage outflow pump had been turned off, and so was no longer pushing water out. Without the positive pressure, water started flowing back in, leaving the bunker flooded, and the task of restoring it that much harder.

Just over a decade ago the bunker opened its doors to the public. Over the past ten years many members of the ROC stationed there have returned and shared their memories of the bunker. Many found love there, some found new extra-marital love there, and one volunteer even went into labour!

The bunker is open by guided tour to the public every weekend, and can be visited during the week for schools or groups. Entry is free for English Heritage members and costs £7.00/£6.30 for adults or £4.20 for children. The price includes an hour long tour, and there are 6 tours a day.

This was one of the best English Heritage sites I’ve visited so far, and I’d highly recommend it! Our tour guide, Anna, brought the whole place to life and was clearly incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about both the bunker and the Cold War, she really made the trip! Thank you Anna!!