'A museum of personality'

At a 50-foot-long “lifeline table” at the Churchill Museum in London, visitors can leaf through Winston Churchill’s life. Touching a given date will call up text and sometimes audio, film and other visuals. (John Maclean)

Britain's largest exhibit space dedicated to its great World War II prime minister, Winston Churchill, is scheduled to open Friday in London.

The Churchill Museum fills more than 9,000 square feet next to the underground Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill directed the war effort during enemy air raids. The Cabinet rooms, opened as a museum in 1984 in the Treasury building on King Charles Street, attract more than 300,000 visitors a year.

The new museum gathered thousands of artifacts from around the world. Among its highlights is a one-piece red-velvet suit that Churchill wore during bombing raids. The suit had been displayed at Chartwell, the family home in Kent.

Museum spokeswoman Rebecca Bourne Jones said Churchill's grandson, Winston Jr., loaned his grandfather's baby rattle and 1953 Nobel Prize for literature to the museum. From the Sultan of Brunei, a major collector, came a smock and artist's materials that Churchill used to pursue a favorite hobby, painting, and from Dallas real-estate magnate Harlan Crow, a revolver given to Churchill by a mine owner who helped rescue him in 1899 during the Boer War in South Africa.

There's also an array of what Bourne Jones called "Churchilliana," such as ashtrays with the prime minister's image on them and other whimsical objects.

The museum is divided into five sections, each focusing on a different period in the long life of Churchill, who was born in 1874 and died in 1965. An unusual feature is a 50-foot-long "lifeline table," a kind of computerized filing cabinet that visitors can leaf through using cursors at 26 stations. Touching a given date will call up text and sometimes audio, film and other visuals. During the war years, Bourne Jones said, there is a record of Churchill's activities nearly every day.

"We're trying to create a museum of personality," said Phil Reed, director of the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. "We take as measured a stance as we can."

The museum and Cabinet War Rooms, including private quarters of the Churchill family that were restored and reopened in 2003, are usually open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Dec. 24 to 26. (The Cabinet War Rooms will be closed Wednesday and Thursday before the museum's opening.) Starting Friday, admission to both is about $18.67 per adult (age 16 and older); those younger than 16 are admitted free. (The current adult admission is $14 for the Cabinet War Rooms only.) Phone 011-44-20-7930-6961, www.iwm.org.uk/cabinet.