OPP Day 14 – Bletchley Park

I was just notified this morning that yesterday’s blog post on the Tower of London was my 100th entry! Thank you to everyone who is reading for your support. I will endeavour to post 100 more and continue documenting everything museum/heritage in my life.

My post for today is on the amazing Bletchley Park located around an hours train ride from central London. I visited the site with four friends who are also on the program. We had a lovely day spending around three hours exploring the museums and wandering around the buildings. The site is pretty massive. There is a welcome centre, which provides a brief context to the site, a museum, the mansion, and five huts. Each offers a slightly different experience and forms of interpretation.

We started in the welcome centre where they have a tiny exhibition on the history of Bletchley Park and a short film. The film was actually very useful in providing some necessary context to the site and some more information about its role in the Second World War. Just seeing how the physical landscape surrounding the Park transformed during the War Years is impressive enough. You can then either see a small exhibition on cyber security today or head out to the Park.

We decided to head to the more comprehensive museum that’s located in Block B. The exhibition was text-heavy, but, very interesting. I walked through only reading panels and seeing objects that caught my eye. For example, there is an Alan Turing memorial made from slate about half way through the space. Opposite is the formal apology from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Turing delivered in 2009. Surrounding the apology were cases and panels on the life and achievements of Turing. The second object I was drawn to was Turing’s Teddy Bear. Purchased in his adult life, the bear  named Porgy, is in very good condition. I particularly liked the story that accompanied the bear. One Christmas his niece received a plaid skirt with red buttons. Turing had matching overalls made for Porgy that delighted the niece so much he never removed them.

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After leaving the museum we walked up to the mansion. The Park is beautiful to walk through and every so often there is a text panel exploring some facet of life at Blechtley. There was a particularly sweet panel on romance in the Park. Right in the centre of the Park is a large lake with a water fountain. Surrounding the lake are picnic tables, game tables, and places to relax. It was wonderful to see families using the space for leisure activities and creating such a positive atmosphere.

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The mansion was beautiful inside and out with a fantastic exhibition on The Imitation Game. Costumes and props from the movie were on display including the red notebook used to write down the first message decoded in the film. The Bombe, the Enigma-cracking-machine, from the film is also on display. It was a really nice exhibition linking the house to contemporary popular culture. It was not an exhibition designed to expose the myths of the film, but, showcase the props and draw connections. I would have liked to have seen perhaps one or two panels comparing aspects of the film to what actually happened, but, I can understand why this was not the focus.

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Part of The Imitation Game exhibition

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Beautiful library in the mansion

Last but not least, we visited the five huts around the Park. The first, Hut 11, contained a small exhibition on the women at Bletchley Park. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the very low light levels. I am glad I waited because the exhibition was quite fascinating. I thought the quotes that were selected were especially insightful and I left with a much clearer idea of the roles adopted by women in Bletchley during the War.

The next two huts, Hut 3 and 6, focused on what life was like working in Bletchley during the Second World War. The rooms have been restored to how they would have looked during the War. This included adding wall features and furniture. There was nothing to say whether the furniture was original or replicas. I would imagine replicas as you could walk through the rooms unrestricted.

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Alan Turing’s desk

Hut 8 offered a more interactive visitor experience focusing on cracking the code. In each separate room was a large computer touch screen with a different activity teaching ways in which messages can be decoded. I did not personally interact with this element. Mainly because it was busy and each station was occupied when I walked through.

We finished by visiting what now is my favourite hut, Hut 12. A new exhibition has just opened focusing on the restoration and renovation of the various huts. On display included the only existing Banbury sheets and handwritten notes on the Enigma wheel order. Banbury sheets were created by Turing to aid in finding the changing Enigma settings. These, along with the decoding notes, were all found in the roof of Hut 6. If this restoration/renovation work had not been carried out, this information may have been lost. Seeing an exhibition like this makes me very proud to be in the industry.

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Banbury Sheets

As you can see, we had a very good walk around the site and saw some pretty incredible objects. To finish this post I would like to quote Professor Richard Holmes, a military historian whose words are inscribed on the ceiling in Hut 12: “If this isn’t worth preserving, what is?”

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