“ During WW2 the German armed forces top secret codes were broken at Bletchley Park, providing the allies with vital infomation towards their war effort. The world's first programmable computer and other technologies we take for granted today were initiate „
Bletchley Park found fame from exploits in World War II as being a hub of intelligence able to break even the toughest code with some work reportedly shortening the war by as much as two years. The estate became known as Bletchley Park in 1877 when it was purchased by Samuel Lipscomb Seckham who then sold it to Sir Herbert Samual Leon, a Liberal MP, in 1883. In 1938 there were plans to demolish the mansion and surrounding buildings but Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, Head of MI6, purchased it secretly, mainly for its proximity to railway links to the Oxbridge universities where all the code breaking brains could be snaffled from and to host the Government Code and Cypher School. Infrastructure for telephones and telegraphs were laid down in 1938 and Bletchley Park became transformed into a war intelligence centre just in time for the beginning of World War II. It wasn't until the 1970s that the public discovered the work that went on here, and in 1992, just after the site had been scheduled for demolition it was declared a conservation site and finally opened to visitors in 1993. The site has struggled for money over the years and has only been kept afloat by well timed donations.
Bletchley Park is a little out of the way which is probably a good thing if you want to stay hidden, but does make locating the place a little tricky.
If you drive I would advise using a SatNav, but apparently the postcode may take you to the wrong location so enter Sherwood Drive specifically. Parking is somewhat limited with a couple of small car parks, which you have to pay £3 for when you enter Block B, assuming the guard lets you in, so getting there early may be advisable to guarantee parking. Public transport is convenient as Bletchley Park is just 300 yards away from Bletchley Railway station which has direct links to London, the Midlands and South Yorkshire and if you come in on the Marston Vale Community Railway you can get a 20% discount - happy days. The nearest bus station is Bletchley Bus Station which is very near the railway station so you can head that way and easily walk.
Your tickets can be used as an annual pass:
Children 12 to 16: £6.00
Children under 12: Free of Charge
Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 children aged 12 to 16): £26.00
The National Museum of Computing is a separate trust so you need to pay extra if you want to visit and this is just a one off ticket, not an annual pass:
Just to see the Colossus and Tunny galleries:
Children (13 to 16) and Concessions: £1
Children aged 12 and under: Free
For the rest of the museum, open only on Thursdays and Saturdays adults will need to pay an extra £3.
==Facilities and Access==
* There are 3 sets of toilets - one in Block B, one between Hut 1 and Hut 8 and the other in the mansion. There are 4 disabled toilets available within these 3 sets. The toilets I used were of a very high standard, clean and fully stocked, although the taps were those irritating ones that you cannot completely get your hands under so are left with soapy residue.
* Dogs are banned apart from assistance dogs.
* If you will need a wheelchair it is necessary to pre-book, although wheelchair assistants/pushers are not available.
* Food and drink can be found in the café in Hut 4
* There is wheelchair access for the café with a ramp and into Block B for the museum via a general wheelchair lift, as well as another lift inside.
* Sessions can also be arranged for the visually impaired in handling certain artefacts.
==My Day Out==
I'll be honest, most of my prior knowledge for Bletchley Park came from seeing the movie Enigma, which certainly glorified it to a certain extent and made it feel like a beehive of activity, so I don't really know what I was expecting in visiting here, but I thought it would be an exciting collection of machines whirring away and the chance to get some hands on code cracking experience in the style of World War II, but overall I found myself a little disappointed which could just be that I set the benchmark ludicrously high, but there were plenty of other contributory factors that I feel also added to this slight sense of anti-climax. It could just be the time of year that I visited, but the place did feel slightly that it had fallen into a state of disrepair with scaffolding around some of the huts and areas no longer fit for public footfall which made it feel a little run down in places, though obviously the buildings are old. The main buildings though still looked very impressive, especially the mansion, and the walk round the small, pretty lake is nice if you fancy a stroll.
There is an awful lot to see here so you are looking at potentially a full day's experience to fit it all in, but one of the biggest problems here is that not everything is open every day and perhaps this was another reason for my bitter sense of disappointment as on a Tuesday it felt like everything I wanted to do was shut. It looks like the weekend, probably a Saturday, is the best day to attend if you want a chance to experience as much as possible in one day, but I suspect it would be incredibly busy which may have a detrimental effect on your overall enjoyment factor. But, the advantage of your ticket being an annual one means, assuming you have the time and/or proclivity, you can pop back on other days when previously closed attractions are now open so you don't miss out, but alas for me it was an 1 ½ hour's drive to get there so I'm not sure I would go back any time soon.
So what is there to see? Block B accommodates the main exhibition which is the museum displayed over two floors. Here you get a complete overview of the events that occurred here over the wartime period which is enhanced by a short film, as well as all the different techniques for intercepting messages, decrypting and analysis with special difficulties to overcome the language barriers. The evolution of the Enigma and Lorenz machines and other decryption devices with genuine models is fascinating, but it is a case of "look but don't touch". There were a couple of demonstrations of working machines near the Bombe machine so keep an eye out for those and also look out for the famous slate statue of Alan Turing here, commemorating his invaluable work, plus there is also a section about his horrendously shabby treatment after his homosexuality became known and his ultimate demise via cyanide which is a big blot on the Government's record. There is also a section devoted to the magic of cinema with old projectors and cameras on display which are stunning to look at and highlights yet another stage in the technological evolution over the years plus much, much more.
The highlight of this museum is without a doubt the reconstruction project for the Bombe machine. The original machine, the Bomba, came from Polish crypto-analysts who had devised it to test the German Enigma machines' rotor settings, but were unable to continue when those blasted German's changed their military system, yet they kindly passed on all their information to Bletchley Park before the war started. Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman further developed the Bombe machine which was able to capitalise on repeat messages from the Germans such as with weather reports and the fact that the same letter could not be encrypted by itself and thus "cribs" or guesses could be formed that made it easier to identify the correct rotor settings thus enabling mass deciphering of intercepted messages. Genius. There is the separate toy museum spanning across the 1930s-1950s, which is located by the Post Office which was shut on Tuesday's, but these toys are moved to Block B on the days it is shut so these were also on display in Block B, and they were great to look at with lots of tiny models of trains, toy soldier, dolls (like the now contentious gollywog) and teddy bears which are very indicative of the period and probably very nostalgic for the older generation.
In Block A you can visit the Churchill Collection which is a massive room just crammed full of memorabilia and information about the life of the great man. I personally felt there was just a little too much to see here, so it was information overload, making it hard to take any of it in, but there were very friendly volunteers manning the rooms willing to tell you stories at the drop of the hat and they were easily more interesting to listen to, with stories such as how Churchill had a direct line to Eisenhower, but could be cut off by no less than a woman if it was deemed unsafe which at the time may have ruffled some feathers. Apparently a few years back this collection was much bigger with models on display and an area to teach kids Morse code, but a lot of the collection was sold off, no doubt due to money issues, so explains the reduced space and how the remaining collection is crammed in. Also in this block is the Enigma cinema, in a 1940s style, only open on the weekends (so no good for me) that show old wartime reels from between 1pm and 4:30pm in the summer and 2pm to 4pm in the winter every half an hour so if you are around that time it undoubtedly well worth a stop by.
The mansion, although doubling up as an exhibition centre for private functions meaning most of it is closed off to the public, still has quite a few rooms to explore and is also the starting point for the 1 ½ hour tour available, with a maximum of 50 people allowed. There is the Hall of Fame which has an information board for the most influential people during the wartime efforts which is worth a read as there were quite a few characters during this time and a library with a few exhibits on display of old devices like the peach peeler, back massagers and many quirky antiquities so worth a quick gander if you have the time. We would have liked to do the tour, but unfortunately arrived too late for the only time we could make in our scheduled day so had to miss out, though they do warn you at the reception to get there early so it was our own mistake. Tours can be seen in massive clumps of people as you go around the complex, so a bit of eavesdropping on the way past revealed some interesting stories being regaled by an enthusiastic tour guide so I think if you can spare the time you will want to try to get on one of these tours.
The rest of the estate is scattered about into Huts (1, 8, 11, 12) and a few other outbuildings. The Post Office is small but quaint, and you can buy postcards and other cheap memorabilia, as well as a £5 secret letter from the front counter which you can send to a person of your choosing which I can only imagine goes on a secretive journey around the country before it reaches its final destination. You can also learn about which establishments worked undercover with the post office to deliver important letters in safety. The garages next door house some maritime and old car exhibitions which you can get up close and personal to which give off that marvellous aura of history that make these types of places so appealing. There is also a Model Railway, sadly open only on the weekends so again I couldn't see it, but it sounds pretty mesmerizing according to the website. There is also a Polish memorial in the Stableyard commemorating all the hard work of the Polish codebreakers allowing Bletchley Park such a great head start over the Germans. There isn't a great deal aimed solely at kids, and strolling around the vast number of patrons were septua- and octogenarians, but Bletchley Park has made an effort with printable trails and quiz sheets, a play area outside the café, the toys display, Wednesday activities including spy workshops, teaching Morse code and interactive pigeon displays and the Children's Cinema Club as part of the Enigma Cinema.
Onto the huts which all served their different purposes during the war (clearly labelled outside), even if they are no longer in use. Hut 1: here you can see the original communications equipment that sent and received the secret ULTRA and DIPLOMATIC messages overseas. Alas, only open on the weekends. Hut 4: the café which serves hot and cold food such as sandwiches, sausages and mash/chips with vegetables or baked beans, soup of the day and sausage rolls. I had sausages, chips and vegetables and a cup of tea at under £8 which I thought was very reasonable. There is quite a lot of available seating inside and outside on benches, though perhaps only during the summer time, but it best to get there before a tour finishes as otherwise floods of people swarm in and it becomes ridiculously busy. Hut 8: previously Alan Turing's work space but now home to the Pigeons exhibition depicting the bravery of those patriotic homing pigeons throughout WWI and WWII as well as ideas on turning them into biological weapons which was thankfully scrapped...or was it...it should be open daily, but was shut for renovations when we went. Hut 11: since all of the Bombe machines were ordered destroyed after the war, only replica Bombe machines are exhibited here, and you can get a talk on them in here as well by knowledgeable staff. Hut 12: a fascinating exhibition on Ian Fleming and the little known work he did during the war, which obviously influenced his James Bond spy novels.
This just leaves Block H where the National Museum of Computing lives, and is something I would have loved to have visited having a keen interest in computing, which of course, unless you had the foresight to book an appointment on the other days, is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays between 1-5pm so again I was thwarted. The blurb about it looks really fascinating from a computer development perspective ranging from the Tunny machine (which is available to see any day), Mainframes, analogue computers, flight simulators all the way up to scientific computing so it sounds worth the £5 entry fee so I was bummed I couldn't see it. But, thankfully the rebuilt Colossus machine of 15 years in the making is on display daily, so you do get to see that stunning piece of engineering work in its entirety with wires and bulbs and all kinds of whirring noises and flashing lights which is rather awe-inspiringly the first digital, programmable and electronic computer and the sheer magnitude of it when compared to today's piddly little laptops is astounding.
If you didn't opt for the guided tour, you can also have benefitted from the audio guide available in Block B at the reception area, but we weren't offered this at the time so were unaware of its existence. Ah well, there was plenty of information and staff around to ask questions if you didn't have this extra resource, but I think it could have been useful. The shop is also fairly spacious and there are plenty of great things to buy in amongst the normal tat, such as a working Enigma machine for the princely sum of £199.99, jigsaws, jams, toy models, books, books and more books, and a whole section rather uncomfortably devoted to the London 2012 Olympics. So I have rambled on horribly, but hopefully have given an idea of all there is to see here. For me, I was disappointed by the amount that I failed to see either through my own fault by missing the tour guide or through things simply being shut on the day I chose to go, but had I gone over the weekend I would have seen everything I wanted which is clearly the time to go, though it may well be busier and more stressful with parking and eating etc.
This is a great place full of history and intrigue with some stunning displays of old, working and in progress mechanics and some fabulous insight into the people that helped win us the war and whom we owe our way of life to, but for me it was slightly lacking that hands on experience I was craving with limited interactivity and most things following a strict museum regime. This will probably appeal more to people with a genuine interest in / nostalgia for the war than perhaps the younger generation as I can see kids potentially being a tad bored, despite efforts to put on activities for them. But, apart from the shabby state of certain buildings and many activities being unavailable at certain times, there was little else to complain about, the exhibitions were all of a high standard, if a little dry in their delivery and the helpful staff was very friendly so I am only knocking off one star despite my own disappointment. Recommended to those with an interest in World War II, though you may have to come back several times to do it all, but at least it will be free for the remainder of the year.
That was what Winston Churchill said about the staff at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. This was one of Britain's most important military sites during the Second World War. It didn't host soldiers or Spitfires, however; instead it was the home of the Government Code and Cypher School, the forerunner of today's GCHQ. Its most important function was to decrypt coded messages sent by Germany and its allies using ciphers such as Enigma, and to pass this information on to the British government. Huts were built in the grounds of the mansion to house the hundreds of workers, and they stand to this day and are used by the museum.
Bletchley Park's work was top secret during the war, and it remained so for several decades even after hostilities had ceased. Partly this was because the UK sold cipher machines to other countries including Enigma-based techonology and did not want them to know that British intelligence could crack the codes. It was only in the 1970s that information began to come out (a publicisation which was controversial among veterans even after all those years) and only in the 1990s did the site open to the public. The work of Alan Turing, computing pioneer but persecuted to suicide in the 1950s because of his homosexuality, is also given proper prominence - including a fine slate statue in the main block.
** The main block **
The museum is really more of a loosely-associated collection of collections. In the main building, as well as the inevitable gift shop (which contains plenty of children's toys with little to do with WW2!) there is a large exhibition on code-breaking itself. One of the most interesting parts of this when I visited was the "Enigma and Friends" exhibit in the basement, which showcases a huge range of German, Russian and other machines and explains their subtle differences. Sadly there was a note saying that the owner of these machines will be removing them soon: no clear reason was given for this, which was a shame.
On the main floor there is a full-size working reconstruction of the "Bombe", an electro-mechanical computer of which no fewer than 200 were built to work on code-breaking. Every one of the originals was deliberately destroyed after the war, but the reconstructed machine is highly impressive, with cogwheels and wires all over the place. In this area too there are sometimes talks given about the Enigma machine, which on one occasion I visited included a practical demonstration with an original.
The upstairs gallery is the most eclectic part of the main block. There is a small display recreating a German bunker. There are some exhibits on aircraft, including such things as an English-Japanese aeronautical glossary. There's a good section on the Battle of Pegasus Bridge, an important British airborne landing after D-Day. There's a large display of mid-20th century toys, including a vast model farm. Oh, and there's a recreated kitchen and living room, complete with some fairly odd dolls.
** Elsewhere **
So much is crammed into the few acres of the Bletchley Park site that it is impossible to see it all in one day, and equally impossible to give more than a flavour here. However, a major draw for many visitors is the Churchill Collection. This is an enormous collection of artefacts and memorabilia connected with the great Prime Minister, a man who took a close interest in the code-breaking that went on here and made sure that the workers at the Park were properly supplied for their vital work. Note that the collection is closed on Thursdays.
Another fascinating exhibition is a small cinema operated by the Projected Picture Trust. You can find this in the white hut with the ABC logo fairly prominently displayed outside, and as you might expect it shows wartime-era films such as newsreels and propaganda. The interior has been done up in the appropriate style, with classic tip-up seats and so on. There is also an exhbition of contemporary cinematic equipment, projectors and the like. Owing to a lack of resources (unfortunately one of the Park's major problems) the cinema is open only on weekend afternoons.
There are at least half a dozen other exhibitions, some with more direct Bletchley connections than others. For example, the small post office which handled the workers' mail: letters were addressed to a PO Box, then sent to London and back to avoid anyone realising who worked at Bletchley. There's a small garage of classic cars, some of which are frankly in need of a dust. An unassuming hut hosts what turns out to be a huge model railway exhibition, while a few steps away is a wonderful display of model ships. There's even an interesting look at the part pigeons played in the war effort.
Although most of the actual exhibitions are inside, it's worth taking a little bit of time to walk around outdoors, as Bletchley Park also acts as a small nature reserve. While this is not a zoo and you are not likely to see anything particularly startling, the gently landscaped area around the lake (near the entrance to the main block) is a very pleasant spot to take the air in good weather and watch the ducks and swans. Families should be pleased to know that there is a small but well done play area, with giant chess set, close to the rear of the mansion house.
** The National Museum of Computing **
Although, with one major exception, the NMOC is not directly concerned with wartime code-breaking, it is, hands down, my own favourite part of Bletchley Park. It is exactly what it says: a more or less self-contained establishment which celebrates the history of computers from a strongly British perspective. And specifically computers - this isn't the place to find Nintendo consoles, but you will come across Sinclairs, Amstrads, Dragons and the like. Oh, and about a billion BBC Micros, including two fully-working Domesday Project machines, with more data available than just what's on the recently-launched BBC "Domesday Reloaded" site.
You can wander freely through most of the building (rule of thumb: if the door's open and there's no sign saying otherwise, go in!) and most of the computers are not hidden away in glass cases. The mainframes are a bit big for that, in any case! There are several hands-on areas, including a nice space near the entrance with about nine 1980s machines of various types ready to go with games of the era! Elsewhere, I found a room packed with a vast collection of Acorn computers, obviously including heaps of BBC Micros but also some of the company's rarest and most unusual creations, ranging from the very first (System 1) to the very last (Phoebe) Acorn model.
The exception that I mentioned at the start of this section is that this is where you can find the Colossus rebuild: a fully-functional replica (just a few years old, though it doesn't look it!) of a code-breaking computer that ran in this very building in 1944. There are many candidates for the title of "the first computer", and which one you choose depends on your exact terms of reference and a variety of personal prejudices. However, it's reasonable to argue that Colossus was the first digital electronic computer that was also programmable, albeit not a general-purpose one in the way that the later American ENIAC machine could claim.
Unfortunately the NMOC does not have sufficient resources to open to the public as much as most of Bletchley Park. At the time of writing, it was only generally open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons (from 1.00 onwards) although you could book a tour on Tuesdays. The Colossus, rebuild itself, however, is open for viewing every day - though do be aware that it's a very popular spot for tour parties, so if you time it wrongly you'll find yourself in the most almighty crush! If you are able to visit when the NMOC is generally open, it is very strongly recommended.
** Practicalities **
There is a café in Hut 4, which is the only part of the site which has been used continuously for the same purpose since WW2. It's really too small to cope with peak-season numbers, so it's good that you can picnic on the lawn outside. The food is mostly of the pie'n'chips variety, and is adequate without being anything special. There are toilets in the main block, between two of the huts and close to the café. Unless I missed them, there are not any toilets in the NMOC building. The toilets are a little bit old-fashioned but are clean and quite well stocked.
As mentioned above, some exhibitions (such as the NMOC) have limited opening hours, so it's always best to check first before travelling if that's a major attraction for you. There are also fairly frequent private functions in the mansion, so that is sometimes off-limits. However, as far as the site itself and the main galleries go Bletchley Park's opening hours are straightforward: the museum is open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day as follows:
March to October: 9.30 am to 5.00 pm
November to February: 9.00 am to 4.00 pm
Admission prices are not particularly cheap at first glance, but you do get a lot for your money - and it's worth noting that tickets are valid for 12 months from the date of issue, so if you come back several times during that year (which you'll have to if you want to see everything!) it'll actually work out very good value, especially given that younger children get in free:
Over 60s / students: £10.00
Children aged 12+: £6.00
Children under 12: Free
Family (two adults + two children): £26.00
You are quietly encouraged to arrive using public transport, and so car parking costs £3.00.
You are allowed to take photos (and videos), and in keeping with the pleasantly relaxed air of the place there are very few restrictions, other than the usual one of "personal, non-commercial use".
Dogs (other than assistance dogs) are not permitted on site because of its wildlife-conservation role.
** Getting there **
Bletchley Park is very nicely placed from most parts of the country. From the west, you can use the M40 as far as Banbury, then take the A423/A43/A421 route to the outskirts of Bletchley. (The slightly more direct route through the centre of Buckingham itself is not really recommended due to congestion.) From the east, you can arrive at junction 13 of the M1 and then follow the A421 into Bletchley. This way does mean going through Milton Keynes, but that town sprawls so much that you can't really avoid it anyway.
Using public transport, the obvious way to come is on the train, as Bletchley Park is a matter of a few hundred yards' walk from Bletchley station, which is on the West Coast Main Line and as such has very frequent services operated by Virgin and London Midland. Trains can be very crowded in the peaks and on summer weekends, though, so reserving seats might be worthwhile if possible. If you happen to be arriving from Bedford, there's also a branch line from there. By bus it's not quite so easy, although there are plenty of services running to Bletchley from Milton Keynes especially.
** Contact **
Web (general): www.bletchleypark.org.uk
Web (NMOC): www.tnmoc.org
Phone: 01908 640404
Post: Bletchley Park Ltd, The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, MK3 6EB
** Verdict **
I am an enormous fan of Bletchley Park, and have hugely enjoyed my visits there. As with many of the attractions I like, it's not a place that would suit someone who wanted everything set out neatly and methodically, and its unfocused nature can be a little frustrating occasionally. But the vast range of exhibits does mean that there's likely to be something here for everybody: even those with no interest in code-breaking at all could easily find ways to fill up a day. I hope Bletchley Park never becomes sanitised and regimented, because as it is it's worthy of as easy a five-star rating as I've ever given to a museum.
Bletchley Park was a station commissioned by MI6 just before the Second World War. It was due for demolition by its current owner Captain Hubert Faulkner but the government stepped in and brought the grounds in 1938 with war on the horizon and Hitler having just invaded Austria. Bletchley Park was brought to house both MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Being located only 50 miles from London in the Buckinghamshire, the GC&CS had a safer environment from the London grounds they currently had to work on the intelligence they had.
The station was given the code name 'Station X' by Commander Alastair Denniston. After preparations were finished, installation of phone lines etc the 'code breakers' were brought in. Arriving in August 1939 they masked themselves as part of Captain Ridley's shooting party in order to disguise who they really were and what they were doing. People were still not aware of what went on at Bletchley Park even after the war had finished and the truth remained relatively hidden until the mid 1970's.
Today Bletchley Park is open to the public and acts as a museum preserving what happened there during the war. Bletchley Park was actually praised as knocking up to 3 years off the length of the war with the decipher of the German code machine named the 'Enigma cypher'.
The Enigma cypher was invented in Germany in 1918 for secure banking, the German military quickly saw its potential and removed it from circulation. The Poles were ahead of anyone outside Germany and broke Enigma in 1932 whilst it was undergoing trials in the German Army. They reconstructed a machine but with the continuous development in Germany they were soon left behind, and with the imminent threat of invasion Poland soon offered the information and model to the English and French, at the time both declined with England finally taking it in 1939. Now with an Enigma machine in front of the code breakers they could make progress like they hadn't before.
Bletchley Park 2009
Today, you can visit Bletchley Park not only to visit the site and museums to see the famous machines but you can also hire out the venue for weddings and conferences. The weddings would take place in the mansion in one of the rooms downstairs; there are rooms of different sizes.
Bletchley Park is made up of different areas Block B - The Exhibition Centre is the main entrance, where you buy your ticket and get a map, as the name is quite explanatory it also has an exhibition centre (like a museum) where you can read and see a variety of information and items from the war itself. In Block B, there is also an introductory video that lasts about 10 minutes and tells you about the site.
The Bletchley Park Garage is where some cars were used for the film Enigma plus others from the previous owners.
The Bletchley Park Post Office was believed to be the undercover mailroom with the secret address of PO Box 111 Bletchley. Now the post office has many pieces of art and history inside including some original pieces such as stamps from the war.
The Toy Shop is next to the Post Office and is full of a personal collection of toys, spread across 3 rooms are many toys and games from throughout the war period including many from US soldiers that were brought to the UK.
The Churchill Collection is another personal collection spread out in a larger hanger, having been added to for over 50 years.
Bombe Rebuild Project is a rebuild of the machine that cracked so many of Enigma's codes throughout the war. All the Bombe machines at Bletchley Park were indeed dismantled after the war to keep them remaining a secret (so why they've rebuilt one, I'm not quite sure).
Colossus Rebuild Project is a rebuild project in Block H, of the first semi programmable computer in the world.
The Computer Museum is the only hardware and software computing museum that is hands on. The museum ranges from technology from Colossus to the computers of today.
And so much more. I'm not going to name everything as there is so much.
I am a bit of a world war II buff and love going back in time to see what war time in Britain was really like, and this is what Bletchley Park offers, although it is mainly museums and exhibitions now, you really do get a feel for the people based at Bletchley Park in the war.
Bletchley Park is set out on quite a bit of land and even has its own lake, there are some nice walks around the grounds and there is A LOT of stuff to walk around. It can be hard, we went for a full day and still found we didn't see and do everything and will no doubt return at some point this year. The reason we'll return this year is our £10.00 ticket is a season ticket and you can return for free from the date the ticket is purchased. You will just need to pay parking again.
I find this a great incentive to go back, as I definitely need to, after 5 hours of constant reading and taking in so much information I felt overwhelmed and couldn't take in any more information. I would like to go back and refresh myself and start at the end where I finished this time round.
The staff are all volunteers that work for the Bletchley Trust and are so helpful, there are staff member scattered around at every turn and they are more than happy to tell you information about where you are, what happened, and some personal experiences too. Most of the volunteers are on the older side and I would presume most of their parents were in the war and I suppose many were at Bletchley Park, and that is why they feel the alliance.
I'm sure a lot of the information can be found in books and online but it is nice to see it in its natural environment, where it actually happened.
There are many huts as they are called spread out on the grounds where different parts and tasks were undertaken, it is a long walk around every hut and inside them all too. Some huts aren't open at the weekends, some are, some aren't open on bank holidays (which of course is when we went). I would recommend checking this before you go, unless you are going to head back.
Overall the whole experience was a good one, I enjoyed the people there helping and telling stories and information and it made it feel more authentic. I already totally respect the war time generation but find that many, not only those that worked at Bletchley Park, do not want to talk about it, understandably, but in terms of education Bletchley Park offers those of today an opportunity at an insight to what war time life was like, which in all honesty many people can't comprehend due to how readily available everything is today.
I think Bletchley Park should be a must on all school itineraries, I remember going to places that meant nothing at all, this is our history and we should be educated in it. Hopefully it won't be completely lost while the Bletchley Park Trust keeps going.
The prices were beyond reasonable in today's standards and the food and drinks aren't over the top either.
If it's raining take a coat as there is a lot of outside walking between areas.
Food and Drink
In Hut 4 there is the Galley Bar & Restaurant. They serve both hot and cold meals and sandwiches. You can also get hot and cold drinks. Prices are reasonable, a sandwich can be found between £1.50-£2.00 and they are freshly made.
Weekdays Winter Opening : 10.30am to 4.00pm
(1st November to 31st March)
Weekdays Summer Opening : 9.30am to 5.00pm
(1st April to 31st October)
Weekends & Bank Holidays Winter Opening : 10.30 am to 4.00pm
(1st November to 31st March)
Weekends & Bank Holidays Summer Opening : 10.30am to 5.00pm
(1st April to 31st October):
Children 12-16: £6.00
Children (under 12): Free
Family Ticket: £22.50
(2 adults & 2 children 12-16)
£3 per car on site per visit.
This has got to be one of the best days out in Britain, but bring a picnic!
A quick overview of Bletchley Park for those that are unfamiliar:
Bletchley Park refers to the site where The Allies decrypted Axis intelligence during the Second World War. It is also the site where, it is claimed the first computer to be invented, was used to decrypt these messages.
What went on at this site, was materially destroyed after the war, in order that no-one would ever find out how the Allies managed to be one step ahead. What remained in peoples heads remained top secret, until the 1970s.
It would be fair to say that this heritage site could only appeal to the military enthusiast and computer buff and there is plenty here to satisfy that, including a painstakingly rebuilt Colossus computer.
There is much much more, and importantly it all relates to the 1940s, so plenty here for the Home Front enthusiast. The military stuff is mainly centred around the huts.
For those who like country houses, the mansion thankfully still remains. there is an excellent site dedicated to model railway. There is a large collection of 1940s dometic artefacts and advertisements etc across two sites, one of these dedicated more to toys and childhood.
There is a 1940s style 'post office', although to be honest and fair to visitors, it is actually a shop selling First Day Covers and philatelic items. Great if you are into stamps, not so great when the 'tour' of the shop is a thinly disguised attempt at getting you to buy covers - this really put me off.
There is also a 1940s style 'garage' complete with vintage cars, a maritime section...
There really is a lot to see here.
The entrance fee is relatively inexpensive for the amount you get to see. AND once you have bought your ticket it lasts the whole year from that date, although some special events are excluded.
This is just as well because one day doesn't start to cover the amount of time you will need to take your time and enjoy all that is here.
Only one real downside: one of the huts is now a restaurant. The food is overpriced. If you get hungry, be prepared to spend to satisfy this, and if you come with a family your wallet is going to empty very quickly when feeding time comes. Be prepared! Bring your own picnic, the grounds are beautiful.
Bletchley Park was once Britains best kept secret and is now a heritage site and museum,it is situated in a beautiful parkland setting.This place has a fascinating history,the story of a desperate race against time to crack Germanys coded communicationssuch as those sent by the famous Enigma machine.
Bletchley Park was Churchills secret passion, he called the codebreakers the"geese that laid the golden eggs that never cackled."
Exhibits include the Enigma machine.
World War Two Aviation disply.
Home Front exhibition
A display of toys and playthings
The Churchill Collection
The Bletchley Park Post Office..where you can send a secret message.
The Bletchley Park Garage .. a collection of vintage vehicles.
The Mansion.. A beautiful Victorian mansion open to visitors, subject to weddings and conferences.
There is a Restaurant offering a wide range of meals with hot food served between 11.30am and 3.30pm daily.
There is a nice gift shop selling a unique range of gifts and toys.
Admission Charges Adults £10.00 Children(12-16)£6.00 Children under 12 are admitted free.
Parking is £3.00 per car.
One thing I really like is your admission charge is a season ticket giving you free entry to the park for one year from the date of your first visit.
What Happened At Bletchley Park?
In 1939 a large collection of mathematicians, chess champions, linguists and many others made their way to a country mansion in the Berkshire countryside. However, until 1979, if you'd ask them what they were doing they would have been unable to tell you. It's not that they didn't know, it's just that they were bound by a small piece of red tape known as the official secrets act.
For at Bletchley Park they were playing a vital role in the war effort. They were breaking the German Enigma code. It is estimated that the work done at Bletchley shortened the war by two years, saving countless lives.
The Enigma of The Enigma Code
Of course, this was not an easy task and required the best minds in the country. Most of them eccentric in one way or another.
The German Enigma machine took the letter pressed and passed it through a set of rotors with specific wiring on them that illuminated an unrelated letter to the operator who then transmitted that letter. An Enigma machine receiving a message would be set up the same as the one sending and key in the encoded letters illuminating the original letters. The Enigma's greatest weakness as a machine is that it would never encipher a letter as the letter itself. In other words the letter E would never ever be encoded as a letter E.
Even so, the odds against breaking the Enigma code are 150,000,000,000 to one. The Germans understandably believed that it was impossible to break. However, partly due to this complacency, it was eventually broken.
Alan Turing, a mathematician and genius along with Gordon Welchman built a machine know as the Bombe that exploited the above mentioned weakness in Enigma.
The Ultimate Challenge
Enigma was not the only code to be broken at Bletchley. Hitler and his top staff had their own cipher that was many times more complicated than Enigma to break. The machine that was used to create the code was called the Lorenz.
The Lorenz machine used a method known as modula-2 addition to encode and decode the message. The letter being encoded had a random letter added to it and this was then transmitted. The receiving Lorenz machine set to the same settings as the one encoding added the same letter to the text and using modula-2 addition they cancelled each other out leaving the original letter.
Unfortunately for the Germans, as the Lorenz machine being a machine cannot generate a totally random number, it could only ever be pseudo random, so that made it possible to break.
However, by hand it could take weeks to break a message if at all, and by that time the information was usually useless. The Post Office's R&D department were approached about building a machine to speed up the process. Most thought it impossible except one man. Tommy Flowers. He devised a machine that used valves and was nothing less than the world's first programmable computer. It read paper tape using an optical tape reader. Flower's extraordinary computer could cut down the time taken breaking these vitally important messages to hours.
A Visit To Bletchley Park
I visited Bletchley when I had to go to Milton Keynes with my girlfriend and had most of the day spare. I had wanted to go for years, so I was excited, even though it was freezing cold and raining quite heavily. After purchasing the tickets we were directed into the mansion.
It is a large building with a dome on the roof at the left, brick built. Inside the house we were greeted by a nice woman volunteer who gave us our time for the next tour. In the meantime we wondered about the excellent war exhibitions in the house.
After a short wait we were invited into one of the rooms and given a short lecture by on of the guides. Our party had seven people in it ourselves included. This gave a foundation for the rest of the tour. Our guide was very informative and obviously had a real passion about the place.
Other than the main house there are a series of huts. During the war each Hut had a dedicated task. For example, Huts six and eight were dedicated to breaking the Naval Enigma code. Most of the huts are still there. One has been converted into a canteen.
We were taken outside and around the back of the house and show where a bomber had dropped it's bombs, destroying one of the huts. The Y station, known as Station X (because it was station number ten). A Y station is an intercept station listening in on German messages sent in Morse code.
From there we were shown the Polish war memorial. Poland took many of the first steps towards breaking the Enigma code before they were invaded. Necessity being the mother of invention. Their contribution to breaking the code cannot be underestimated.
We were then taken into one of the huts where there is a replica Bombe. The Bombe was a machine that made finding the key settings for a message much quicker. The replica was built for the film Enigma, there is a working one being made. The machine is a large box with multicoloured drums on the front. When the machine had finished its run the key settings it has found were tried on a real Enigma machine to see if it came out with plain German.
You are then left at a museum of all things World War II and Enigma. There is also a large and growing collection of computers. There is an original four rotor Enigma machine on display. The four rotor Enigma was used mostly by the German Navy, of course this extra rotor made the possible number of keys exponentially greater. This new addition stopped the code breakers for months allowing the German U-Boats free reign in the North Atlantic. Eventually it was worked that in order to communicate with regular three rotor Enigmas one of the 26 positions the fourth rotor had no effect, making it in effect just another regular Enigma machine.
In total the tour lasted around 45 minutes. There is also an extensive museum dedicated to Winston Churchill. It's probably worth setting aside at least three hours for a visit to be able to take in everything.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Bletchley Park. Everyone who works there has a real enthusiasm for the place. If you are interested in code breaking and the second world war then you can't fail to be fascinated by the story.
My only disappointment was that I didn't get to see the Colossus rebuild that was being re-housed at the time of our visit. That's a great excuse for another visit (in summer next time).
They get no Government of Lottery funding so I would encourage people to support them before this vitally important piece of modern history is lost forever. I would hate to see a housing or industrial estate built there. Don't forget to make your entrance fee a donation, you have to sign something so that the Tax man doesn't get his fat greasy hands on it.
Thanks for reading.
Further Reading And Information
Station X, The Code breakers Of Bletchley Park book.
Station X, the Channel Four programme available on video.
The Code Book By Simon Singh
Admission Charges And Opening Times
Concessions: £8.00 (OAPs, students with valid ID card and children aged 8 to 16)
Children under 8 admitted free of charge
Family Ticket: £25.00 (Two adults + Two children aged 8 to 16)
All WW2 veterans are admitted to Bletchley Park free of charge.
Bletchley Park will re-open on 1st April 2006. The opening times are different for weekdays and weekends:
Weekday - 9.30am to 5.00pm. Last admission at 3.30pm.
Weekend - 10.30am to 5.00pm. Last admission at 3.30pm.
On weekdays - parking is available on-site for £3.00, redeemable when £10.00 or more is spent in a single transaction either in the gift shop or on catering.
On weekends - car parking is available on-site for £5.00, again fully refundable when £12.00 or more is spent in a single transaction in either the gift shop or on catering.
We parked on the Bletchley train station car park on a Saturday and it was free and only a short walk the Bletchley Park.
Contacting Bletchley Park
Telephone: 01908 640404
Bletchley Shop: 01908 272671
So secret that some still won’t talk about it!’ Apparently that is true. Bletchley Park (also known as Station X) is the famous place where we managed to decypher the German enigma codes during World War II and the birthplace of modern computing and communications. During the war it was a highly kept secret and the workers were threatened with death if they ever told anyone where they were working (although most did not understand the significance of their work). Amazingly, this was all kept secret until 1974 when details started to be revealed. Since the war, the site has been used for various things, such as a training college and the DHSS. Recently, after a long battle against demolishment, Bletchley Park became a heritage site run by a charitable Trust, which is now open to the public. HISTORY I don’t want to give too much away here, or it would spoil the visit. However, if you have no intention of visiting but are still interested in finding out more or want to be reminded of the incredible work that took place here, they have a website at: www.bletchleypark.org.uk. The Mansion house was bought by Sir Herbert Leon in 1883 and was requisitioned by the government in 1938. By 1945 over 12,000 people worked at Bletchley Park. By bringing most of the brilliant mathematical and creative minds in the country together, they managed to crack the German war time codes, the most famous of which was the enigma code. This is the famous German cypher machine that was recently stolen and then returned to Jeremy Paxman. The culprit faces an extortion trial shortly and the enigma machines are now bolted down! Also the world’s first electronic computer (no memory) was built here called the Colossus. Probably the most famous figure at Bletchley Park was Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who has had a film made about him and who is considered to be the father of modern computing. By March 1946 the place was empty. It
is estimated that the work achieved in Bletchley Park reduced the war by two years. In 2000 one of the Enigma machines was stolen from Bletchley Park and it eventually turned up having been posted to Jeremy Paxman, who I understand handled it quite extensively thereby covering up some of the culprit's fingerprints. The police eventually arrested someone for the handling of stolen goods and he went on trail in October 2001, but the actual thief was never caught. The Enigma machines are now nailed down. WHERE IS IT? Bletchley Park is very close to Bletchley railway station, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Bletchley is in south Milton Keynes and is signposted from most main roads in Milton Keynes, the nearest being the V7 Saxon Street. It is off Wilton Road. The address is: Bletchley Park The Mansion, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK3 6EB Telephone 01908 640404 PRICES & OPENING TIMES Open every weekend from 10.30 am until 5.00 pm. Last entry at 3.30 p.m. There are often special events, some examples of which have been an airborne forces event, a model boat show and a fireworks extravaganza. Limited and disabled free parking is available on site or alternatively free parking is available at Bletchley station. Prices are £5 for adults, £3.50 for children over 8 and pensioners, and free for under 8’s. This includes a guided tour which takes about one and a half hours and is available each hour from 11.00. The grounds are 55 acres in total. WHAT CAN YOU SEE Do not expect an American style tourist attraction. Bletchley Park has only recently been taken over and preserved by the Trust. It desperately needs funds to restore a lot of the old wartime huts where all the important work was performed. Basically, it is tatty, but personally I think this added to the experience. The guided tour explains much of the history of the Mansion house, the codebreaking and the remarkable mac
hines that were devised there. The guides are all volunteers and I was very impressed with ours – she was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. You are taken to a number of locations around the site including the Mansion house, but many are outside which is not pleasant if it is raining (as it was when I visited). There is a cryptology trail, which follows trail of a coded message from its interception to decode and interpretation, and includes a video and lots of exhibits (including a reconstructed Colossus the first computer and some enigma machines that you can actually use). On display are also some props from the recent film Enigma, which interestingly enough wasn't actually filmed here. You can see many historic exhibitions and displays which frequently change, such as uniforms, WWII memorabilia, WWII aircraft recovery, wartime fire engines and historic vehicles and the occasional re-enactment group. FACILITIES There is a café playing wartime music that sells reasonably priced drinks, sandwiches and snacks. Disabled access is available. There are quite basic but clean toilets and there is a shop selling souvenirs. I bought a ration book tea towel, but there are quite a lot of kiddies’ things like rubbers, pens, fudge and stationery packs. There is also a picnic area and some beautiful grounds with magnificent trees. CONCLUSION I enjoyed myself and I am not a mathematician. If you are interested in code breaking and/or WWII, I would think this is an essential trip. The history of the place and the work that went on there is fascinating. The guide was entertaining, giving us snippets of what life must have been like for these dedicated people. I do not believe it is suitable for young children as there is little for them to do and they will be bored listening to someone talk for over an hour. The price was quite high for what it was, but hopefully the funds will be used for further restoration and improvemen
ts. I hope that the place gets the money it deserves to preserve a hugely important piece of British history. Without this place, who knows who what a different place Europe might now be?