I've been meaning to visit the Churchill War Rooms for some time now and last week finally found the time to combine my visit with a guided tour of Westminster, with the good folk at City Wonders.
History was never this exciting at school. The secret tunnels, the original palace of Whitehall, the kings and commoners, Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, and how Churchill rose to become one of Great Britain's most famous Prime Ministers.
Robert our Irish tour guide took us back several centuries with tales of the secret powers of the sword weilded by Richard the LionHeart, perhaps one of the most famous kings of England, yet a King that would gladly have sold England if he could have found a buyer, being French as he was!
Mingled with our history lesson Robert kept us entertained with his quick witted sense of humour. Do you know for example that the two tonne minute hand on Big Ben takes a whole hour to travel around the face, and two double decker London buses could drive side by side through the clock face.
We learned of the excesses of Charles I and his parties at Banqueting House, although life didn't stay fun for him, as he lost his head. That is a tale in itself. The executioner on the payroll couldn't bring himself to relieve the king of his head so another executioner had to be found. An Irishman stepped into the breach and duly wielded the axe. Our guide Robert has had a passion for history from early childhood, so he set about trying to find out more about the mysterious Irishman. Imagine his (and our) surprise to learn that he discovered that he is no less than a direct descendant of that executioner.
We took a peek at the church where Churchill and Clementine were married and learned about his passion for wearing siren suits (we call these "onesies" now). He loved them so much he even wore one to his wedding. I jest, but he did buy one for the king as a gift. The image I have in my head of the two of them has me reaching for the whisky bottle - both men were partial to a tipple or two.
He famously told the house of commons women didn't need the vote as they "are fairly represented by their husbands, fathers and brothers".
It is believed that Churchill actually ordered the police with batons to clear a suffragette demonstration. This didn't quite turn out as expected and thanks to Robert I have found the wonderful Punch cartoon the suffragette that knew jiujitsu.
The war rooms themselves are an amazing time capsule. After the war they were sealed off and abandoned, with everything left just as it was, even down to cigarette butts in the ashtrays. It wasn't until 1984 that they were opened to the public.
An exhibition of Churchill's life and times is also on at the museum, beginning from his early childhood through to the end of his life. It is easy to forget what a wonderful orator he was. As he says of himself "I have always earned my living by my pen and my tongue".
City Wonders really are wonderful and go the extra mile as I discovered when I went to the wrong meeting place. They sent someone out to find me and link me up with the group.
After being thoroughly entertained by Robert, we got another bonus when he brought us to a secret entrance to the war rooms which meant we didn't have to stand in the incredibly long queue to get inside.
Why don't pigeons ever sit on the head of Churchill's statue? Take the tour to find out!