diamond geezer

 Monday, October 05, 2009

An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Sikorski Museum

Location: 20 Princes Gate, SW7 1PT [map]
Open: weekdays 2pm-4pm (1st Saturday of the month 10am-4pm)
Admission: free
Brief summary: exiled Polish wartime archive
Website: www.sikorskimuseum.co.uk
Time to set aside: about an hour

Sikorski MuseumThe people of Poland haven't had it easy over the last millennium, regularly overrun and overtaken by their more belligerent neighbours. When the country was finally 'liberated' from the clutches of Adolf Hitler, and communist Russia took over instead, exiled Poles sought somewhere abroad to preserve their country's wartime records and treasures. Thus was the Sikorski Institute founded, safely within Allied territory, on the southern fringe of Hyde Park just along from the Royal Albert Hall. Today it's both an archive and a museum, hidden away in a row of villas mainly reserved for foreign embassies, and usually with a policeman pacing up and down nearby. Ring the bell at number 20 and a very grateful country will welcome you inside.

Within is a spacious terraced house with a central spiral stairwell and large airy rooms to front and back. The walls are decorated with Polish art, mostly military in theme, and each of the visitable rooms houses a different selection of Eastern European keepsakes. Room 1 is devoted to the military leader after whom the museum is named - Władysław Sikorski. His desk, his bust, that sort of thing - while all his very many medals are displayed in another room upstairs. Room 2 has a few historic pieces and some rather lovely Polish porcelain, but other than that it's pretty much militaria all the way. Don't panic - that's slightly more interesting than it sounds.

At the foot of the stairs is a bronze sculpture of Wojtek the bear, adopted as a cub by serving WW2 soldiers, then enlisted into the army when he grew into a lumbering (yet helpful) beast. Wojtek saw action at the battle of Monte Cassino, an Italian bloodbath in which Polish troops were eventually victorious seizing a heavily defended hilltop town. Monte Cassino gets a lot of mentions around the museum, being a victory of which the Polish Government in Exile were extremely proud, although it wasn't a battle I'd previously been familiar with. Indeed, I think it surprised my tour guide that I was neither Polish myself nor one of the UK's 1 million or so Polish descendant citizens. Everybody else on the tour was, all four of them.

Enigma machineUpstairs, a rare treat. Secured beneath a plastic cover is one of only two Enigma coding machines still on display in this country (the other, not surprisingly, is at Bletchley Park). This was acquired, and its code first cracked, by a bunch of Polish mathematicians before WW2 even started. They worked out how to decipher the millions of combinations of rotors and leads in this evil typewriter, allowing the Allies to know what over-confident German generals were up to. Machine complexity was later greatly increased, but Alan Turing and his pioneering 'Bombe' computer eventually unravelled that too, thereby helping to end the war two years earlier than might otherwise have been the case. It's hard to believe that such a lowly black contraption, all keys and cables in a small wooden box, had so great an effect on our global future.

And yes, more Polish military stuff to follow. The cap Władysław Sikorski was wearing during his suspicious fatal plane crash. Some swords. Lots of banners and military colours (including a liberator's red and white flag hastily made out of a bedsheet). Various leaflets, posters and booklets (in Polish, obviously). And all brought to life by a guide who himself saw action as a Polish post-war soldier, and without whom it all might have been rather dry.

Sikorski Museum - staircaseAnd ssh, don't mention this bit to the staff, but one of the best bits about the tour was the opportunity to see inside a proper Kensington embassy-type building. The Iranian Embassy, location of an infamous snooker-interrupting siege in 1980, is only four doors up the road and must look pretty much identical inside. I imagined hostages holed up in the echoing rooms, and abseiling SAS men breaking in through the front windows, and gas from stun grenades swirling down the precipitous central staircase. And then I pulled myself together and thanked my guide and saw myself back out onto Princes Gate. A unique, and entirely eye-opening experience.
by tube: South Kensington, Knightsbridge

S is also for...
» Saatchi Gallery (I've been)
» St Bartholomew's Museum (hospital history)
» Science Museum (I've been)
» Sherlock Holmes Museum
» Sir John Soane's Museum (quirky and unmissable)
» Sutton House (National Trust in Hackney)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards