Bletchley Park

This expedition started out with the National Museum of Computing, which holds many, many dinosaurs.

technological dinosaurs

technological dinosaurs

It was a crash course in the history of computing, which started out rather confusing because the maths behind the enigma machine (and encryption technology in general) are a bit beyond me at the speed the guide had to go in order to get us through in an hour. Interesting as it is, it mostly flew over my head. I was a bit more at home when we got to punch cards and batch processing… I’ve never had to deal with them personally, but I could at least follow along. My father was an old-school computer programmer, spoke fluent COBOL- I recall several instances of him explaining the binary code with ink pens on dinner napkins.

The story of code breaking and computing came out a bit more when we toured Bletchley Park itself, which started with the story of how the grounds were purchased in the first place. Admiral Sinclair, who was in charge of the Government Code and Cypher School in 1937, wanted to move his branch away from London and possible air raids, knowing how important codes and deciphering schemes were to national security. He found Bletchley, which was perfect in location, proximity to rail lines and universities, and just beside the telephone, telex, and teleprinter lines.  The Admiral was given a standard bureaucratic run-around when it came to buying the property, and eventually just bought it himself.

Of all the architecture we saw the entire time we were in the UK, the mansion at Bletchley Park was the most eclectic. They commonly refer to it as Victorian Stockbroker, as the owner of the property before it was purchased by Admiral Sinclair was a stockbroker who liked to travel. He and his wife would bring back ideas for their house, and would have them shoehorned in whether they made the slightest sense for the building or not.

Victorian Stockbroker, or "bloody mess"

Victorian Stockbroker, or “bloody mess”

Bletchley Park, at its peak, cycled 9-10,000 people through in a day, on three shifts, and treated codebreaking like an assembly line. Many of them were women who had joined the military for the war effort, put to work checking over messages and putting pieces together. This approach worked, as message after message got decrypted and the information put to use. It’s estimated that the work done here shortened WWII by about two years.

I was surprised at how little was mentioned of Alan Turing in either place. He was mentioned, yes, but nothing specific, despite his name being one of the most recognizable and important in the code-breaking/early computing fields. His office, at least was pointed out.

Alan Turing's Office


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