The name ‘Bletchley Park’ conjures an image of harassed mathematicians hunched over monstrous typewriters, inputting endless numbers and letters, pale-faced women wired into huge switchboards, listening, and everywhere the pained silence of ultra secret, life or death, wartime work. Bletchley Park was once simply a curious, Victorian English country home but today it is one of the most influential historic sites of World War Two and has benefitted greatly from a recent heritage lottery funded renovation.
Key Facts about Bletchley Park
- Bletchley Park is located in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England.
- The present house was built in 1883 by Sir Herbert Leon.
- The mansion was home to Sir Herbert Leon and his family until 1938 when it became the base for MI6’s communications operation.
- Bletchley Park is where Alan Turing and his team broke the German Enigma Code and completed the mathematical work that formed the basis of modern electronic computing.
A Brief History of Bletchley Park
Originally a part of the estate of the Manor of Eaton the site of Bletchley Park is mentioned in the great Doomsday Book of 1086. A house was built on this historic plot of land in 1711 by a man named Browne Willis. In 1793 the house was demolished and it wasn’t until 1883 that Sir Herbert Leon expanded the remaining farmhouse on the site and built the mansion known as Bletchley Park.
The Bletchley mansion is an unusual and eclectic design that incorporates elements of Victorian Gothic, Dutch Baroque and Tudor architectural styles. Founded and funded by millionaire Sir Herbert Leon, the mansion’s exterior features both Dutch and Tudor gables and a Moorish influenced roof. The building is asymmetrical in design with sumptuous interiors featuring reproduction Jacobean ceilings, marble arches and an impressive ballroom with gilded ceilings.
In May 1938,Bletchley Park went from being a little-known and somewhat curious English country home to being one of the most important centres of British intelligence during the Second World War. Under Sir Richard Gambier-Perry Bletchley Park mansion and 38 acres of land was transformed into the headquarters for MI6’s communications operation in preparation and anticipation of the outbreak of war with Germany.
Bletchley Park, known as B.P. to those who worked there, was chosen due to its prime location almost immediately adjacent to Bletchley Railway Station, a main road linking London to the North West of England and a telegraph and telephone station at Fenny Stratford. Throughout the Second World War Bletchley Park was the location of British military intelligence and code-breaking, the most influential example being the cracking of the German Enigma code and the building of the Colossus computer in 1943 to decrypt the Lorenz cipher used by the Nazi high command. MI6 and the GC&CS (Government Code and Cypher School) collected staff from various backgrounds to join the code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park. The most famous of the ‘Code-breakers’ were cryptoanalyst Dilly Knox and mathematician’s Alan Turing and Peter Twinn.
At the peak of MI6’s code-breaking efforts in early 1945 there were around 9000 people working at Bletchley. In order to accommodate the many staff and extensive equipment a large number of buildings were added to those already in existence on the site of Bletchley Park. Wooden huts known by number and brick-built blocks known by letter were built all over the grounds of Bletchley Park to house the many departments, workers and equipment needed by the code-breaking teams.
Following the Second World War much of the equipment and documents held as Bletchley Park we destroyed and the buildings were left to ruin. The site of Bletchley Park was used as a teacher-training college and local GPO headquarters in the sixties and seventies but by the 1990s was at risk of being demolished to make way for re-development. The Milton Keynes Borough Council stepped in and declared Bletchley Park a conservation area. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed and opened the site to visitors in 1993 as a museum.
Bletchley Park has recently undergone a huge renovation funded by the Heritage Lottery and re-opened to visitors in June 2014 complete with a new visitors’ centre, renovated huts and newly landscaped gardens. Bletchley Park’s main attractions include the rebuilt Bombe and Enigma machine which sit alongside Glyn Hughes’ full-size sculpture of Alan Turing in Block B, The National Museum of Computing in Block H, the Mansion itself and various displays focused on subjects such as the Home Front, Maritime History, The Diplomatic Wireless Service and Toys and Memorabilia.
What Makes Bletchley Park Famous?
The work of the Code-breakers who toiled at Bletchley Park during the Second World War was considered ‘Ultra’ secret, even more secret than the ‘Most’ secret operations, and as such all workers were sworn to absolute secrecy, a command some Bletchley workers have obeyed right up to this day. A chain of wireless intercept stations around the country collected messages sent by various enemy armies and sent them on to Bletchley Park to be deciphered, translated and fed back to the British Army in intelligence reports that were used by commanders in the field. Winston Churchill famously described the code-breakers who worked at Bletchley Park as “the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled”.
Bletchley Park on Film and TV
Bletchley Park featured as a location in the following films and TV shows.
- The Imitation Game (2014) Film
- The Bletchley Circle (2012-) TV series
- Danger UXB (1979) TV Series
- Aldrich, Richard J. (2010) GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency
- Copeland, B. Jack, ed. (2006) Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Codebreaking Computers
- See also Timewatch Special ‘Codebreakers: Bletchley Park’s Lost Heroes’ and the 1999 documentary series ‘Station X’.
- Gannon, Paul (2011) Inside Room 40: The Codebreakers of World War II
- McKay, Sinclair (2010) The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: the WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There
- Smith, Michael and Butters, Lindsey (2007) The Secrets of Bletchley Park: Official Souvenir Guide
Bletchley Park is ran by the Bletchley Park Trust and is open to visitors every day except the 24th, 25th and 26th December and the 1st January. During summer the park is open from 9.30am to 5pm and in winter is it open from 9.30am to 4pm. Admission price for adults in £15 and for children is £9, unless they are under 12 in which case it is free. Visit the website www.bletchleypark.org.uk for more