Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Secrets of Bletchley Park
Monday, 24th April 2012
X', better known as Bletchley Park, was home to the famous codebreakers of the
Second World War and the birthplace of modern computing and commun-ications.
After a slightly longer journey than expected due to traffic, we were
greeted on arrival by a Victorian country mansion house built in 1883 by Sir
Herbert Samuel Leon, financier and friend of Lloyd George.
His interests took him all over the world and his mansion became a strange
mixture of many architectural styles. Inside, the warm wood panelling,
intricately carved staircase and decoration of the ballroom ceiling were
indicative of his standing. It was here that we were served a welcome cup
of coffee and given an introduction to Bletchley Park by our tour guide.
Set in 300 acres of land beside the London and North-Western Railway
line that passed through Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, Sir Herbert developed sixty
of those acres into his country estate. One of Bletchley's greatest benefactors,
he was much loved by the local people. He was awarded a baronetcy in 1911.
Following the deaths of Sir Herbert and Lady Fanny Leon, the Park
fell into the hands of property developer, Hubert Faulkner, who intended to
demolish the buildings and sell the land as a housing site.
However, the Government intervened in 1938 (having obtained a tree
preservation order to stop the building!), and as the threat of war loomed and
Hitler invaded first Austria and then Czechoslovakia.
The Government Code and Cypher School, then based in London, needed a
safer home where its intelligence work could carry on unhindered by enemy air
attacks. At a junction of major road, rail and teleprinter connections to all
parts of the country, Bletchley Park was eminently suitable.
Commanded by Alastair Denniston, the Park was given the cover name
'Station X'. After meticulous preparation and a series of trial runs, the
codebreakers arrived in earnest in August 1939. They masqueraded as 'Captain
Ridley's Shooting Party' to disguise their true identity. They also recruited
top Mathematicians from Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere. But no one knew what
was going on there!
were told how the work of the codebreakers began in earnest. The most famous of
the codes and cyphers to be broken there, was the Enigma but there were also
large numbers of lower-level German systems to break as well as those of
Hitler's allies. The Poles had already broken the original Enigma but became
unable to proceed when the Germans changed their procedures and so, in a
magnanimous gesture, they passed their information to Bletchley Park.
Our excellent tour guide Alan Pearce then gave us our next
'briefing'! Here we must pay tribute to Alan's professionalism, his
presentations were so interesting and coloured it with a delightful sense of
In this fascinating historical journey of the codebreakers, he took
us round the many 'Huts' and 'Blocks' explaining the use that each one had in
the quest to break the codes and cyphers. The back gates and windowless sentry
box used exclusively for staff cars and despatch riders (who were not allowed in
and knew nothing of what they carried). He told us that the Post Office, like
so much of Bletchley Park, has its origins shrouded in secrecy.
it is believed that during World War 2 it was an undercover mailroom with the
secret address of PO Box 111 Bletchley. Like so much of Bletchley Park its
origins are shrouded in secrecy.
the wartime sub-post office recreation to the stunning display of first day
covers the once secret mailroom was a delight. It has examples of undercover
mail sent using that address. In 1947 the GPO opened it as a small sub-post
office for what was now a Post Office training centre. In 1994 it became
Bletchley Park's first "gift shop".
Then on to the Turreted tower where a tiny radio room maintained
contact with British Embassies in Europe between 1939 and 1940 and which first
bore the name 'Station X'. However, it was short lived as it was too visible
and was moved to nearby Waddon Hall.
stable block which was converted to a garage, now houses the Rover, used by the
first head of wartime Bletchley Park, Alistair Denniston, and other vintage
vehicles. Above this was the pidgeon loft. The occupants of which were taken
to neighbouring airbases, then to occupied France returning to Bletchley, under
their own steam, with messages from the Resistance.
12.30pm ushered in a sandwich and drinks lunch in the ball room again
which was followed by our third 'briefing' of what went on in the various Huts,
including the Enigma machine, the Bombe an electro-mechanical machine with
clattering code wheels which greatly reduced the odds and time required to break
the ever-changing keys which was produced under the leadership of Alan Turing.
And then on to F Block where Tommy
Flowers brought Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic computer and
which was painstakingly rebuilt in the 1960's. Tommy was a brilliant PO
engineer from the PO Research station and his skills in building Colossus are
amazing when you look at the detail and size of the machine.The Churchill
Collection and the many other exhibits and museum pieces were absolutely
fascinating however there was so much to see one could well do with another
Personally, I loved the two sculptures by Stephen Kettle made in 2007 - the
splendid bust of Winston Churchill in the Churchill collection and the famous
and large sculpture of Alan Turing in Block B. Both intricately made from small
pieces of slate put together to form a very life like image of him sitting in a
As a Nation we are all proud of our men and women in
the second world war and what they did.
We also know that this country has produced large numbers of creative,
inventive, talented people - what a debt we all owe to all those brilliant
brains and their wonderful patient staff who dedicated themselves to solving
some of the most important problems we have had to face.
Churchill had significant links with Bletchley Park and famously said
of the workers at the Park 'The geese that laid the golden eggs - but never
A cup of tea and a muffin went down very well at 3.30pm before boarding our
coach and as we pulled away from our parking place, a wave and goodbye from
three of the lady staff from the house standing on the footpath. What a
lovely thing to do!
May Bletchley Park's success continue with its renovation of the site
and the building of a new Educational Centre which they hope will inspire
electronics engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists for the future.
This was a simply fascinating trip and if you have never been - it's a must!