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Andrew Spencer

Historic Bletchley Park Is Being Broken Up

A vitally important site is being fragmented ...

Posted on: 14/02/2014   By: Andrew Spencer

I am writing about a very disturbing development at the incredibly important Bletchley Park WWII cipher breaking site. There is something happening that threatens the integrity of this incredible and unique site, its heritage and its history ...

Bletchley Park: Block F straddling the road and Block H can be seen through the arch

Bletchley Park: Block F straddling the road and Block H can be seen through the arch

This is the site of WWII cipher breaking, the cracking of Germany's, Italy's and Japan's encryption of signals. It was the first factory for cipher breaking - unique and hugely important. A massively important operation that is said to have firstly enabled Britain to survive against the onslaught from Hitler's Germany but also to have enabled Britain and its allies to win the war.

Operations at Bletchley Park are said to have shortened the war by 2 years. In that 2 years Germany could have won.

So what is going on? Put simply, a fence is being erected. This is no ordinary fence, more like a Berlin Wall type of fence. It is dividing up the Park and separating important parts from each other.

I must say that I am writing this post as an individual. Yes, I am an employee of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) which is resident in Block H at Bletchley Park, but I'm writing as a private individual with personal opinions. I was also a volunteer for the Bletchley Park organisation (Bletchley Park Trust - BPT) for a year or so and know Bletchley Park intimately. You should be aware that TNMOC and BPT are separate organisations with an unhealthy relationship!

So there is a fence going up! Why does this matter?

There is a lot of change going on as a result of BPT gaining significant Heritage Lottery Fund funding (£millions) and much of this change is very laudable. A new visitor centre is being created in Block C and Huts 3, 6 and 1 are being renovated into wartime condition.

Pretty much the whole area of the constricted BP museum - the relatively limited current BP museum - is being pedestrianised. There is considerable vehicle traffic on site from office tenants and visitors to BPT and TNMOC and this traffic should be separated from visitors. This is good news.

But the way this is being achieved is not good. A fence is being erected that is both ugly and offensive. Bollards suffice to separate traffic from people. This is not simply bollards but a 6 foot plus modern fence that feels like the Berlin Wall being erected.

It separates the so called BPT payzone/museum from the rest of the site. It's not in action yet, but it will be soon, so the bottom line is that it will cut off a huge amount of the overall Bletchley Park site from the very restricted BPT zone. In effect, TNMOC will be cut off, or at least access becomes much more tortuous.

But why is this significant?

Very simple answer: TNMOC provides the rebuild of Colossus at no cost to BPT and very low cost to visitors. Access is being made more difficult, but this is a small part of this story. We, at TNMOC, can work on attracting visitors to our museum directly but what's important here is that the fence will divide up Bletchley Park.

Why are they doing this?

Let's look at their public statements. On BPT's website is a 'statement of fact'. It says in relation to the fence:

"The Bletchley Park Trust will be erecting a fence and gates around the heritage aspect of the Bletchley Park site for the following reasons. Firstly, the security and protection of the iconic Home of the Codebreakers once £8 million has been invested in restoration and interpretation to return the core site to its WW2 appearance, free of 21st century intrusions, such as car parks. In addition, the pedestrianisation of the heritage site for the safety of ever-growing numbers of visitors which include the elderly and families with young children."

There are two main implications here, apart from the sensible pedestrianisation. First TNMOC will be separated from the rest of the Bletchley Park story. Far more importantly, BPT are saying they are ring-fencing the Heritage aspects of the Park to protect them. Oh, that is interesting - what is left outside the fence then?

There are huge heritage implications from this separation, including the isolation of Block H, the home of TNMOC and 6 Colossi in the war. But not only is Block H outside the wall, so are Blocks F, G, and D. OMG! This is a huge part of Bletchley Park's heritage! And all outside the wall!

Lets look at each block that is outside the wall.

Block F

This block was demolished in the 80's by British Telecom but was hugely important to the Bletchley Park story. It was the biggest block - by my estimate, 100,000 sq ft - and was the home of some really key aspects of the BP story.

Block V

This shows the various operations of Block F including Colossus, Robinson and Dragon

This included the main base for the operations against Lorenz (the cipher machine of Hitler and the German High Command) , the home of the Testery and the Newmanery, the Heath Robinson and Dragon machines and the first 4 Colossi to arrive at BP! Hugely important. It was also the home of the division of Bletchley Park that dealt with the Japanese.

To quote English Heritage:

"The area once covered by Block F remains an open site and, as a result of its absence, Block H appears distant and separated from the more densely built part of the site, of which it was once a part."

Block F is now a car park and a grass field. The last vestiges of Block F (a staircase) were removed a few weeks ago which was very bad news. Why not turn it into a shrine to a critically important building? A small fence and an information board would have sufficed but again, it's outside the wall!

Block V

New gate shown in red. Block F now gone but block H shown in context of gate

On the map of Block F here see "Checkpoint Charlie" This is where the gate is to the car park that leads to Block H (TNMOC).

Block H

TNMOC's own building originally built to house Colossi. The world's first purpose built computer centre. Colossi 5 to 10 lived here and it is the perfect home for TNMOC. It was built in late 1944. Block H was the last building of significance to be built at Bletchley Park.

Block V

Colossi 5 - 10 shown in position in the world's first purpose built computer centre

Block D

According to English Heritage, one of the most important buildings at Bletchley Park as the Enigma cracking and decoding was done here. Ironically Block D became the enlargement of Huts 3, 6 and 8. Hut 8 has already been renovated and Huts 3 and 6 are being restored to wartime condition. Block D is their ultimate expression, not restored yet, but again outside the heritage fence!

Block G

Huts 3 and 6 intelligence analysis was in Block G, but also the centre of cracking the Abwehr's Enigma - the German military secret service's communications - and the running of the double agents. The cracking of the Abwehr's Enigma enabled the pickup of German agents very quickly on their arrival in Britain. They were given a stark choice - work for us or die!

So there is a huge 'heritage' part of Bletchley Park outside of the new 'Berlin Wall'. Why? This is not necessary and given the good work going on to preserve Bletchley Park's heritage seems massively unnecessary.

The Park and its history should be treated as a whole and it is a great pity that it is not. A fence should not be allowed to get in the way of the visitor experience and the telling of a fascinating story. Let's hope the whole thing is removed in the near future!

Ich bin ein Bletchley Parker!

Until next time ...


More about Andrew Spencer ...

During Andrew's extensive business career he has worked in a wide cross section of companies, specialising in the creation of contact centres and business systems, software development, telecommunications and project management. Andrew's key skills are:

  • Business planning and strategy

  • Matching technology to business needs

  • Project management

  • Software development and implementation

  • Designing and implementing business systems

His work has included sourcing and implementing a new integrated telecoms system for National Energy Services, designing and project managing a new IT and telephony structure for the Greyhound Racing Association, and directing technology development for Wembley plc.


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