Eden Camp – The former POW camp now a War Museum

Of all the museums I have visited in the world I think my favourite is that of Eden Camp, a former British prisoner of war camp in Malton, North Yorkshire, that was abandoned after the war and purchased in 1985 by a man named Stan Johnson. His intention to turn it into a factory was stopped dead when former inmates came to him to look around the camp, from here an idea was sparked to instead turn it into a museum. The Italian prisoners who had occupied this place from 1942 to 1948 had long gone, but as work began on restoring some of the 45 huts, the history came thick and fast. 

Near main entrance
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard M. Jones

When it first opened in 1987 there were only ten huts open for visitors, but in just five years it had not only opened over double the number of huts but it had also started winning a vast number of awards that the attraction would go on to achieve over the coming years.

Personally I must have been to Eden Camp at least 6 times over the years, possibly even double that. A school trip in the early 1990s led me to have a lifetime fascination with this period of history and since then I have taken my family and friends back with me, especially those that do not live in the area.

One stretch of huts
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard M. Jones

This museum is unique in the fact that it is still set out like a PoW camp today with the huts, still in their original form, telling a different part of the World War 2 story. Starting in Hut 1 you are introduced to the rise of the Nazi Party, each hut then showing how the British lived on the Home Front, the third hut done out to look like the interior of a U-boat (make sure you pull the toilet chain as you go past!).

U-boat interior
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard M. Jones

But there are several huts that are more powerful than the rest and for me that is the Blitz in Hut 5 the smells of the burning buildings and the wreckage of what would have been somebody’s house really makes you think of what life was actually like during a bombing raid on the major cities. For the special effects, Eden Camp have done well, for it is not too traumatic yet it still portrays what it is meant to.

The Music Hall in Hut 6 gives you a chance to sit down and enjoy a World War 2 puppet show with the songs of Vera Lynn, George Formby and Gracie Fields. Strongly recommend putting the children on the front row. No reason whatsoever (wink wink – there are water pistols involved).

Breaking off from what is always at least a 4-5 hour visit, time to head to the Canteen for a lunch – perhaps as you walk into Winston’s Bunker Café you may want a Dambusters themed hot meal or just a light snack and coffee before heading back out. With plenty of places to sit, they also encourage packed lunches, probably due to the vast amount of school trips that arrive here, and empty huts full of tables are available to visitors.

Winston’s Bunker Café
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard M. Jones

It is not just the vast amounts of display information and exhibitions that make this camp special, but the outside is also full of history – aircraft as you come through the car park, search lights, a watch tower, numerous guns dotted around, “unexploded bombs” along with the air raid shelters.

With the history of the other wars not forgotten you can check out the First World War hut and another dealing with the wars since 1945 – Korea, Palestine, Falklands, Iraq – while the sound effects make you fee like you are transported in time along with the songs that kept the spirits up during these difficult times.

No museum of this calibre would be complete without a visit to the gift shop where replica wartime posters, books and various other fascinating items can be purchased. For those with tiny children there is a play park within the grounds to help them burn off any energy along the way!

For those who have never been and have an interest in the Second World War era, I cannot recommend this museum enough. With plenty of parking and various events organised throughout the year, the guys who run this seem to have thought of everything you would need to have a stress-free visit and come away with an experience like no other.

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Richard M. Jones

Richard M. Jones is an author and historian specialising in disasters and shipwrecks along with two World Wars. Spending his time between Hampshire and Yorkshire, he has put up 12 memorials to victims of forgotten tragedies and published 19 books along the way.