June 2022. Making the best of four weeks off, after the Mediterranean cruise for Danny and Mexico for Timothy, we organised a train trip in England. On the menu: Bletchley Park, the night train to Penzance, the Dartmouth Steam Railway and the Isle of Wight. On the last day, we roamed around London to sample the Elizabeth Line.
We dropped our luggage at London Paddington Railway Station and took a train to Bletchley Park, which used to house the Government Code and Cypher School. The place where British Intelligence cracked the German Enigma coding system during World War II.
Bletchley Park is an English country house and estate in Bletchley, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire that became the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War. The mansion was constructed during the years following 1883 for the financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon in the Victorian Gothic, Tudor, and Dutch Baroque styles, on the site of older buildings of the same name.
During World War II, the estate housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), which regularly penetrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. The GC&CS team of codebreakers included Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander, Bill Tutte, and Stuart Milner-Barry. The nature of the work at Bletchley remained secret until many years after the war.
The team at Bletchley Park devised automatic machinery to help with decryption, culminating in the development of Colossus, the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer.[a] Codebreaking operations at Bletchley Park came to an end in 1946 and all information about the wartime operations was classified until the mid-1970s.
After the war it had various uses including as a teacher-training college and local GPO headquarters. By 1990 the huts in which the codebreakers worked were being considered for demolition and redevelopment.
The Bletchley Park Trust was formed in February 1992 to save large portions of the site from development.
More recently, Bletchley Park has been open to the public, featuring interpretive exhibits and huts that have been rebuilt to appear as they did during their wartime operations. It receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
The separate National Museum of Computing, which includes a working replica Bombe machine and a rebuilt Colossus computer, is housed in Block H on the site.
Bletchley Park is easily accessible from Bletchley Railway Station. The admission fee is expensive. It’s an annual pass. There is no ‘normally priced’ single admission. You can take an audio guide, but we didn’t.
Bletchley Park has many exhibition space. The old Blocks are converted into museum rooms. Some focus on wartime coding others on breaking those codes, early computing but also the evolution of radio and telecommunications in general, how Bletchley Park worked in wartime and the lives of some of the key players, such as ‘lead star’ Alan Turing.
It must be said, the collection is extensive. Sometimes it repeats itself. But it goes deep into the subject.
Of course, you can also visit the mansion. That as such is not so spectacular, but is speaks the imagination.
There are numerous catering options on site. Allow a few hours.
I wonder, how did the German, Italian and Japanase handle codebreaking. A panel or to explaining the competition would have been nice.