The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 33, August 19, 2007, Article 13


This week was a grueling one at the office, leaving little free
time for numismatic pursuits.  After putting in a 58-hour workweek,
Friday evening was a welcome chance for a break.  Figuring correctly
that everyone in their right mind would be out at the pubs, I got
my weekly laundry done without a hitch.  While the washers were
spinning I popped down the street to Whiteleys for dinner.

Entrepreneur William Whitely had come from Yorkshire in 1845 and
opened a small shop in a then unfashionable part of London called
Bayswater.  By 1885 the area was booming and Whiteley's business
employed thousands - his was the first and largest department store
in the country, earning an unsolicited Royal Warrant from Queen
Victoria in 1896.  When George Bernard Shaw wrote his play Pygmalion
(My Fair Lady), he sent Eliza Dolittle "to Whiteleys to be attired"

Today Whiteleys is a modern indoor shopping mall housed in the
former Whiteleys department store building.  This building was
erected in 1911 after a fire destroyed the previous building in
1897. It was the height of luxury at the time, including a theatre
and even a golf course on the roof.

By a twist of fate the beautiful Edwardian building survived the
World War II bombing raids.  It is said that Adolf Hitler ordered
the Luftwaffe not to bomb Whiteleys as he wanted it as his
headquarters once he'd invaded Britain.

Although the building closed in 1981 after a business decline,
it was fully renovated and reopened in 1989.  Just a five minute
walk from Kensington Palace, Diana, Princess of Wales, used to
shop there and made her children stand in line for the cinema.
The theatre is on the third floor along with some nice restaurants
- this is where I had dinner Friday.   After finishing my laundry
I returned to treat myself to a mindless movie - The Simpsons.
It was an expensive treat - $9.25 GBP, or about $18.50. Doh!!

Saturday was a lazy day.  I didn't leave the hotel until about
3pm when I set out for the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.
Several people had recommended the museum to me, and the cold
rainy day seemed like a fine time to visit.  For the first time
my tube journey became a nightmare.  After getting off at an
intermediate station the announcer noted that there were severe
delays on the train I was planning to take.  Long story short,
after much confusion and train-changing I got to the Westminster
station nearly half an hour later than planned.

I emerged near the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  Tourists
snapped photos and I did the same despite the rain.  After getting
my bearings I followed my map to the Clive Steps on King Charles
Street.  Below the steps was a small door and sign.  After entering
and paying the admission, I was given an "audio stick", a portable
audio tour guide that looks like a long remote control on a loop
of string.  Visitors hang the stick around their necks and press
numbers into the keypad to hear narrations and other recordings
associated with the displays.

One of the first exhibits is the Cabinet Room.  "Shortly after
becoming Prime Minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill visited
the Cabinet War Rooms to see for himself what preparations had
been made to allow him and his War Cabinet to continue working
throughout the expected air raids on London. It was there, in
the underground Cabinet Room, he announced 'This is the room
from which I will direct the war'."

At the end of the war the occupants of the bunker basically turned
off the lights and went home for a well-deserved rest.  Although
valuable equipment and other fittings were moved elsewhere, much
of the cramped office space was left just as it was and sealed
off for decades, perhaps in cold storage for future use which
never became necessary.

The rooms have been refitted based on old photographs and memories
of those who worked there during the dark days of the war.  Huge
world maps cover the walls; banks of telephones, typewriters and
radio equipment show how the command center communicated with the
outside world, even during air raids.  Mannequins dressed in
period uniforms and attire simulate workers in action.

It's a very well done museum despite the naturally cramped quarters.
One can only stand in awe of the responsibility carried on the
shoulders of those who worked there.  Thousands of lives and the
fate of the nation hung on every decision and piece of communication
- there was no room for mistakes or even clerical error; there was
no waiting for tomorrow, for if the war effort were unsuccessful
there would be no tomorrow for Britain.

In such a light numismatics is naturally only a bit player.
Although the war completely transformed daily commerce, coins and
currency worldwide, there is little evidence in the Churchill Museum
and Cabinet War Rooms.  The first numismatic item I came across was
a bronze medallion (over 3 inches in diameter) presented by Churchill
to Lord Swinton, "wartime Minister Resident in West Africa: after
his election defeat, Churchill had these medallions made to thank
people who served in his wartime administration, as well as senior
commanders, Commonwealth leaders, and the King."

The medallion has a very simple design - a wreath around the outside
with simple text in the center.  This example reads "TO / SWINTON /
FROM /WINSTON CHURCHILL"   The name "SWINTON" is engraved.  Although
mounted near a mirror to show the reverse side, the case was so
dark I could not make out much of the reverse, although it seems
to display the same wreath as the obverse.    Have any of our
readers seen one of these medals?  Have any appeared in the
numismatic marketplace?

A nearby exhibit case housed all of Churchill's orders, decorations
and medals, nearly sixty in all, including his WWI Star and Victory
medals, a 1901 King George V coronation medals and a 1937 George VI
coronation medal.

Another case addresses Churchill's hobby of painting, displaying his
smock, brush, palette, and framed and unframed painted canvases.
Churchill was also a voracious reader and prolific author, winning
the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.  His Nobel award is displayed,
but rather than a medal it takes the form of a copy of his 1937 book
'Great Contemporaries', bound in silver.  It's a very beautiful item,
 although I wonder if houses a medal inside.

Reflecting Churchill's love for literature, The Museum's gift shop
has the greatest book selection I recall seeing in any museum.  One
book which stood out was Gavin Mortimer's 'The Longest Night 10-11
May 1941 Voices from the London Blitz' which makes use of survivors'
accounts of one harrowing night to describe the horrors of the
Blitz on London.  The haunting cover photo shows a uniformed woman
holding and comforting a distraught young girl, making me miss my
own family all the more.

There was nothing much numismatic in the gift shop unless you count
miniature reproductions of the Victoria Cross and George Cross medals
or a large chocolate coin of the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.

I stepped outside into the grey drizzle.  Not wanting to repeat my
earlier tube debacle, I began walking toward my familiar Tottenham
Court station on the Central Line.  I walked along Whitehall Street,
passing Downing Street and the Prime Minister's residence at No. 10.
Up ahead I could see Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, near where
I first stayed in London.  A school of black London taxis swam in
unison through the rain as I waited to cross the circle.

Trudging up Charing Cross through the thickening pre-theatre crowd,
I stepped onto a quiet side street to phone my wife and mother back
in the states.  After taking the tube back toward my hotel I bought
some groceries and had dinner, reading the two books I'd bought for
my kids at the Churchill gift shop - one about the Cabinet War Rooms
and the other a biography of Churchill.  Saturday evening I ended up
watching on television the 1964 film 'Becket' starring Richard Burton
as Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Peter O'Toole as King
Henry II.  I just can't escape the bloody English these days.

On Sunday, I rested and worked on personal chores and The E-Sylum.
Around 9:30pm I went out for a walk.  The Price Alfred was still open
and I stopped in.  It's heresy, but I didn't feel like having a beer.
I ordered a glass of French Cabernet.  The barmaid asked, "small or
large?"  "What time do you close?  Fifteen minutes?  Make it a large."

I found a table outside under an awning. I watched the crowds pass
by while the rain came down and made a couple phone calls.  Soon
someone came out to fold up the chairs and tables.  Maybe that's
why people here start drinking at noon - the pubs close too early.
I stood up and finished my drink, then I started walking while
continuing my conversation with my wife.  I gave her a running
commentary on the sights - some nice homes, hotels, youth hostels,
offices, and more hotels.

On one street the trees were so large they nearly blocked the sidewalk
 - at three feet wide there was barely enough room left to walk.  I
passed a hotel with a pub still open.  I was tempted to have another
drink, but I kept walking.  Back on Queensway people sat in front of
the middle eastern restaurants smoking hookahs, large water pipes
burning a mixture of tobacco and treacle, honey or sugar, with fruit-
flavored distilled water.  The convenience stores and many of the
restaurants were still open.  The fancy new bowling alley in the
basement of Whiteley's was closed.  Time to call it a night.

For more information on Whiteleys, see:
Full Story
Full Story

For more information on the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, see:
Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

Google Web
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization 
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor 
at this address:

To subscribe go to:
Copyright © 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society.



Copyright © 1998 - 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster