Saturday 1 February 2014

Periscopes and Secret Agent Pigeons at the Imperial War Museum North

I've missed the previous events at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester because I've had other commitments, so it was lovely to be able to attend today for what must be the best ever - their programme for the February 2014 half term - Spies, Disguise and Ways to Hide.

As soon as I started reading the list of  activities my 5 year old was enthralled. He got a Spy Pen for Christmas and he's been really interested in what spies do. Animals On A Mission, Spy Binocular Crafting and Gadgets And Disguise are right up his street.

So today we went out! Yeeeay!! It's been ages. It's over 2 weeks since I had my leg operation and so far I've only managed the school run 3 times, my outside world experience has been limited to that and the gorgeous Sim's birthday party.

The Imperial War Museum North is located between Manchester and Salford, near the Trafford Centre. It's right by both the BBC Media City and the studios where they film Coronation Street. It was a gloriously cold and fresh morning and a rare blue Manchester skyline.

A view of Coronation Street Studios and BBC Media City
ITV's Coronation Street in front
and over the water on the right the BBC
We were taken into the Learning Studio where we started our day with Animals On a Mission. Using puppets and pictures we were shown some of the animals who were employed to carry secret messages during the war. My boys were fascinated! It was lovely to see that it was fully interactive and all of the children got to answer questions and lots got to 'look after' the animal puppets. The storyteller was brilliant, kept it short and sweet, and held the attention of most of the children, even the little ones.

Stories of heroic animals during the wars

Spy Binocular Crafting was next. Fantastic Baker Ross cardboard binoculars with real magnifying lenses! The children drew their own designs and then we formed the binoculars in seconds. They're brilliant, the boys carried them about and inspected everything all day...

Gadgets and Disguise! My 5 year old loved it! The 3 year old went off to play with the huge stack of toys and the den that had been built for the children.

This is my favourite photo of the day. One of the Thompson Twins spying on someone disguised as Ricky Tomlinson....

One of my children didn't want to dress up....the one on the left in case you weren't certain....

Boy dressed as a carrot

Next we were allowed to get 'hands on' with some of the objects in the museum. The rangefinder was fascinating for my 5 year old.

100 year old world war one rangefinder

The periscope was his favourite though. He has a plastic periscope of his own, so to see how heavy a real metal one was, and how tiny the sight was a real revelation to him.

Boy holding world war one periscope

Then we were let loose to explore the museum. There are some amazing exhibits, notably for us at least, the actual war-battered tank and Harrier Jump Jet...and the cannon, which my 5 year old remembered from the storytelling was drawn by 6 horses.

The large exhibition space is  also where the Big Picture Show takes place. The lights go dim and a soundtrack fills the room. Several different films that work together are projected all around on the walls, so wherever you are, you are able to watch. We watched the Horrible Histories®: Rotten Rationing Big Picture Show and it was brilliant. The boys were stunned, but not at all scared.

The Rotten Rationing Big Picture Show lasts around 7 minutes and we were told all about rationing in simple language and with fantastic animation and pictures. They couldn't make 'Imitation Banana' sound good though....

Zeppelin IWMN

The Imperial War Museum North houses plenty of reminders that Britain has been at war constantly with someone since 1962 - and if you include the Cold War, far longer than that..

World Trade Centre fragment IWMN
A huge section of steel recovered from the World Trade Centre
Before we left we had to visit the Air Shard - passing the Learning Studio which I was delighted to see had been opened up by opening several double doors and was now full of families and children playing. Rise 100ft in the air by lift or steps (who'd be that mad!?) and look out over Salford and Manchester. It's a great view and not to be missed, designed with no solid walls or floors, almost entirely from mesh, so it can be a bit disturbing - especially on a windy day like today.

Manchester photo from inside the Air Shard Imperial War Museum

You can see for miles.....really....

Up and down!

The Imperial War Museum is free to visit although some extra activities can carry a small charge. The large car park is pay and display. It is open daily from 10-5 except 24, 25 and 26 December. Going to the top of The Air Shard costs £1.20 for adults and 60p for children.

We were given free entry and parking to the Imperial War Museum North.


  1. Looks like a wonderful day out with lots to see and do. Love the dressing up!

    1. It's the first time one of mine has been excited by dressing up - it was great :D

  2. This looks like a great place for a day out, and very interesting for half term.

    1. It is a really interesting place, there's loads to see and the special events for half term are brilliant :)

  3. Was great to meet you and we enjoyed it too.
    You caught us in the pictures lol
    Guess I best get my post done too x

    1. :D It was lovely to meet you too! I give an illusion of being organised occasionally!

  4. sounds great and looks like your boys had lots of fun. Wish we could have been there again!

    1. I wish we'd have gone at the same time! :D It was fun, it was great, and aren't the staff lovely!

  5. Looks like you all had a brilliant day

    1. We did, it was lovely - first trip out in a month! :)

  6. Looks like a brilliant day out, if we'd been closer we'd have signed up for this too.

    1. We really are limited by geography, however teeny tiny Britain seems most of the do get loads of really cool events down your way though!

  7. Looks like you all had a brilliant time. Not my cup of tea but I know Husband would love to visit. Loving the fancy dress!

    1. I didn't think it would be my thing before I first wet, but there's loads to interest anyone :)
      The dressing up was fantastically funny :D


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