Ten Must See Experiences at the Imperial War Museum North

15th April 2013


IWM North contains thousands of unique objects on permanent display, some large, some small, but each telling a remarkable story, revealing how war shapes people’s lives. There are a range of unique experiences to be had, inside and out. Here are ten of the most intriguing, dramatic and powerful experiences and objects.

Baghdad, 5 March 2007

The First World War Field Gun

The field gun that fired the British Army’s first shell of the First World War, on 22 August 1914 near Binche in Belgium, is on permanent display in IWM North’s Main Exhibition Space. On 15 September the gun received a direct hit which killed one crew member, Bombardier W King and injured four others during the advance from the Marne to the Aisne. The gun remained in action until the end of the war.

‘Just after 11 a.m. came the order to ‘stand-by’. Number Three gun had the order to fire. It was a mis- fire, so our gun carried on and our first shell was despatched against the German cavalry… We fired eight rounds… [on that day] we had one casualty – one of our horses had his brow-band ripped by a piece of shrapnel. The Germans came through with strength, and after about half an hour, we had to pull out and move back.’

Bombardier John Frederick Osborne, one of the original crew of the gun, recalling the firing of the first shell.

9/11 Steel

The 9/11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, including the loss of 67 British lives. The vast majority of the dead were civilians, including nationals of over 70 countries. On display at IWM North is a huge section of steel – 7 metres in height and weighing more than a ton – recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. This is amongst the first pieces of steel from Ground Zero to go on display in the UK. The columns, thought to be from the North Tower, formed part of a window section from an external wall. The steel, distorted and twisted, is evidence of the massive force and impact of the collapse of the towers. It offers visitors a chance to reflect on the 9/11 attacks and their human cost, as well as the wider impact of modern conflict on people’s lives.

‘To stand in front of that mangled and buckled section of steel is to feel bewildered and dumfounded. Pointlessness and poignancy seem to reside within that exhibit. I felt ashamed, angry, overwhelmed by the historical weight, and very small in its shadow. I felt wordless.’

Simon Armitage CBE, poet.

The Big Picture Show

As the lights fade down, giant screens and powerful surround sound immerse you in the heart of the action, creating a complete sensory experience that is totally involving and often very moving. The award-winning Big Picture Show is a unique 360° audio-visual experience, showcasing IWM’s world- renowned collections of photography, art and sound.

The Building

Designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, IWM North’s iconic structure was inspired by the idea of a world shattered by conflict. The building is the first in the UK to be designed by Libeskind, who has since designed the masterplan for the rebuilding of Ground Zero in New York. With The Lowry and the arrival of MediaCityUK, IWM North has led the regeneration of The Quays, creating a major visitor destination for the twenty-first century.

‘IWM North is one of my favorite buildings that I have designed. The story which it tells in its programs and architecture is a urgent one. Unfortunately conflict continues to engulf the globe and it is in our response that there is hope.’

Daniel Libeskind, Architect, 2012


Air Shard Viewing Platform

Dare you climb the Air Shard?! The jagged shape of the IWM North viewing platform is one of the most iconic features of the Manchester skyline; this is your chance to scale the inside. Climb the 180 steps or take the lift that rises at an angle. Stand almost 100 feet in the air, looking down through the mesh gangway under your feet, to the anti aircraft searchlight pointing up at you from the ground below. For those brave enough to make the journey sneak a peek into the construction site of the new Coronation Street and experience spectacular views of MediaCity:UK, The Quays and Manchester.

‘When one stands at the apex of the Air Shard one is struck by the beauty of a city; its dynamism and brilliant future!’

Daniel Libeskind, Architect, 2012

‘IWM North goes far beyond housing museum objects to conjure raw emotions. The lofty and disorientating structure of the Air Shard draws the visitor into an uncomfortable, exposed world of wind, metal and aerial views, where the imagination meets the upper arena of war.’

Dr Jonathan Foyle, Architectural Historian and BBC Television Presenter

Personal Stories

Every object on display at IWM North tells a remarkable personal story. They include the possessions of the famous nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium in the First World War. Also on display is the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross of Simon Cupples, a British platoon commander in Afghanistan who crawled to within 15 metres of heavy Taliban machine gun fire to save the lives of several men. From 1914 to the present day, hundreds of objects from IWM’s collections reveal how war has shaped people’s lives.

‘I’m delighted to congratulate the IWM North on their 10th anniversary! IWM North has become an icon of the North, with its state of the art architecture and thought provoking and sensitive exhibitions. I look forward to their new display in the summer and wish them another 10 years of success!’

James Berresford, Chief Executive, Visit England

Oliver Philpot’s Compass

In 1943, Oliver Philpot made a famous ‘Wooden Horse’ escape from Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp in Sagan, aided by a compass that was secretly crafted from parts of a gramophone, two halves of a razor blade, cardboard and phosphorous from broken watches. Philpot and two fellow officers used a wooden vaulting horse as a disguise for a tunnel constructed underneath. Gradually, he collected together an escape kit, including adapted clothes, forged papers and a compass and maps made in the camp. After escaping through the tunnel on 29 October, Philpot, with the aid of his compass, made his way to neutral Sweden by 4 November. Visitors can see the compass, part of the BBC A History Of The World project, on display at IWM North.

‘The story of Oliver Philpot and the wooden horse were of great inspiration to me while I was held captive in Beirut. This compass is a must see object from one of the most ingenious prisoner of war escapes of all time.’

Terry Waite CBE, author and former POW

Baghdad, 5 March 2007

This car, destroyed in the bombing of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street, was brought to IWM by Turner Prize-winning British artist Jeremy Deller. At 11.45am on Monday 5 March 2007, a suicide bomber blew up a truck on Al-Mutanabbi Street. The bombing killed 38 people and wounded more than 100. No one has ever claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bombing is viewed as an attack on Baghdad’s cultural life. Al-Mutanabbi Street was home to an historic book market and has been the cultural heart of Baghdad for centuries. This major acquisition serves as evidence of the impact of modern war on civilians.