To anyone brought up in the age of social media and the need to tweet their every thought or activity, the cloak of silence which surrounded Bletchley Park comes as a surprise. A friend of my father’s let slip a few years ago that she had worked there during the war, but then refused to say anything else about what she did – she’d signed the Official Secrets Act and that ensured her silence. Even now, after she has died we still don’t know what she did. There were thousands of people who worked there and who took their secrets to the grave with them. It was time for me to visit and find out what DID go on there!
Bletchley Park is a massive site and ideally needs a full day to begin to do it justice. It is worth spending some time planning what you want to do and achieve during the visit. Tickets (slightly cheaper if bought on line) give free entry for a year. This is great for those living close by and can make several visits. On a day trip from Scunthorpe with a maximum of five hours, I knew I had to focus very clearly on what to see.
I put my name down for a “guided tour”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/attraction/169785-review-bletchley-park as soon as I arrived. These last about an hour and are run regularly throughout the day. They include a walk around the grounds but don’t go into any of the buildings. I found this was a good way to start as it gave an overview of the site and work done here. There are also two multimedia guides – one for adults one for children – which have information about the site as well as interviews with people who worked here along with puzzles and challenges for the children. There were a lot of visitors using them but I decided against it as I don’t have enough hands with camera, notebook and stick.
Entry is through a manned barrier. Block C is the visitor reception area with toilets, coffee shop and gift shop. There are interactive introductory exhibition telling the story of modern code breaking as well as an exhibition on cyber security. Guided tours can be booked at the desk by the exit and multimedia guides picked up too.
It is a lovely area with large lake with a fountain with the Victorian mansion beyond. The huts and larger reinforced concrete blocks are scattered round the grounds. There are information boards with pictures outside all the buildings and a lot of information inside the different buildings.
The Museum in “Block B”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/attraction/169773-review-bletchley-park is possibly the most important part of the site and this needs at least an hour if not two hours to do properly. The Enigma machine and a reconstruction of a Bombe machine which was used to decipher the Enigma messages are in the basement. There is a lot of written information about how the Enigma machines and the Bombe worked. This is run at different times during the day when there is a detailed explanation of how it worked and its significance.
All the Bombe machines were destroyed after the war and there are information panels explaining how the Bombe was rebuilt as well as the small Petard test Bombe which was made as part of the project.
As well as deciphering German messages, Bletchley Park also deciphered Japanese messages and there is information about that work here, along with a Japanese Enigma machine, copies of Japanese phrase books and a transceiver used to send out false information from the British. There is also information how the British military tricked the Nazi into thinking the D Day landings would not take place in Normandy.
There is information about Alan Turing a brilliant mathematician who was head of the Naval Enigma Team in Hut 8 and designed the first Bombe. He is often regarded as the father of modern computing. There is a small display of some of his belongings, including his teddy bear. At the far end is a reconstruction of a Y station which was where the German radio messages were intercepted.
and “6”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/bletchley_park/hut_six/index.html are probably next on the list as these have been recreated as the code breakers huts, complete with bomb blast tape on the windows. Messages were received in Hut 3 where the initial work was done to decipher them. They were then passed to Hut 6 for translation, evaluation and action.
Blinds are kept drawn and the rooms are lit by feeble electric lights. There was no insulation and the only heating in winter was from a small paraffin heater. There are information panels in each room explaining what happened in each.
“Hut 8”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/bletchley_park/hut_eight/index.html contains Turing’s Office. There is information about the pigeons which were used during the war and a lot of information as well as a video on how intelligence equipment could be rescued from U-Boats. There are also quotes from the different people who worked at Bletchley Park.
Most of the Bombes were housed in Hut 11 which was a specially built brick hut. This has a series of information panels about the women who operated the Bombe machines.
The huts probably need a good hour to do them justice.
The “Mansion”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/bletchley_park/mansion/index.html contains Commander Dennison’s Office as well as the Library. There is a lot of information about Gordon Welchman and his work after the war and also an exhibition and artefacts from the film “The Imitation Game”. The tea room in the mansion serves “afternoon tea”:https://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/calendar/d.rhtm/928504-Afternoon-Tea-.html for prebooked visitors.
There is a “coffee shop and restaurant “:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/restaurant/167002-review-hut-4-cafe-bletchley-park in Hut 4 next to the mansion. The coffee shop serves a basic range of sandwiches and cakes. The restaurant serves a choice of hot meals as well as soup all day. It also has a better selection of cakes.
Also on the site in Block H, but not part of Bletchley Park, is “The National Museum of Computing.”:http://www.tnmoc.org/ This has a reconstruction of the Colossus computer which was used to break the Lorenz cipher which the Germans began to use in 1940. It also has the world’s oldest working digital computer as well as the iconic machines from the 1960s and 1980s. The colossus galleries are open daily from 10.30 – 5pm. The rest of the museum is usually open Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 12-5. There is some parking by the museum and there is a small charge to enter.
This was an excellent day and I really enjoyed it. This really should be on everyones ‘TODO’ list. I managed to see everything I set out to do. I took photographs of many of the information boards to read at my leisure when I got home. I have to confess that having listened to an explanation of the Bombe machine during the tour, later when watching it at work and reading all the information boards about it, I still don’t understand it. There were some really clever people at work here.
There is so much to do and see that I have written a series of detailed “reviews”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/travel-product/attraction/140158-bletchley-park about Bletchley Park for Silver Travel Advisor. All my information and pictures can be found “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/bletchley_park/index.html
Bletchley Park is open from 9.30-5 during the summer months and 9.30-4pm in the winter. There is limited free parking on the site, which is on a first come first served basis. There is parking nearby which can be “prebooked.”:https://www.justpark.com/uk/parking/bletchley-park/ Alternatively the railway station is just a few minutes walk from the entrance.
The Trustees have gone out of their way to make the site as disabled friendly as possible. Normal charges apply to disabled visitors, but carers are admitted free. There are disabled parking spaces near the porter’s lodge at the entrance. There are wheelchairs to borrow. All the buildings are accessible by ramps although there is a wheelchair lift in Block B.
Paths around the grounds are tarmac and there are no steep gradients.
Guide and assistance dogs are welcome. There is an enhanced system for hearing aid and non hearing aid users available for the 12 o’clock and 2 pm tours.
Full details “here.”:https://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/visit/access.rhtm