Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park, also known as Station X, is an estate located in the town of Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, and (since 1967) part of Milton Keynes, England. During World War II, Bletchley Park was the location of the United Kingdom's main codebreaking establishment. Codes and ciphers of several Axis countries were deciphered there, most importantly those of the German Enigma and Lorenz machines. The high-level intelligence produced by Bletchley Park, codenamed Ultra, is frequently credited with aiding the Allied war effort and shortening the war, although Ultra's effect on the actual outcome of WWII is debated.

Bletchley Park is now a museum and is open to the public. The main Manor house is also available for functions and is licensed for ceremonies. A good part of the fees for hiring the facilities are paid to the fund, and is another way that support can be given to the Trust.

Early history

The lands of the Bletchley Park estate were formerly part of the Manor of Eaton, included in the Domesday Book in 1086. Browne Willis built a mansion in 1711, but this was pulled down by Thomas Harrison, who had acquired the property in 1793. The estate was first known as Bletchley Park during the ownership of Samuel Lipscomb Seckham, who purchased it in 1877. The estate was sold on 4 June 1883 to Sir Herbert Samuel Leon (1850–1926), a financier and Liberal MP. Leon expanded the existing farmhouse into the present mansion.

The architectural style is a mixture of Victorian Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque and was the subject of much bemused comment from those who worked there, or visited, during World War II. Leon's estate covered 581 acres (235 hectares), of which Bletchley Park occupied about 55 acres (22 ha). Leon's wife, Fanny, died in 1937, and in 1938 the site was sold to a builder, who was about to demolish the mansion and build a housing estate. Just in time, Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, (Director of Naval Intelligence, head of MI6 and founder of the Government Code and Cypher School) bought the site with his own money (£7,500), having failed to persuade any government department to pay for it. The fact that Sinclair, and not the Government, owned the site was not widely known until 1991 when the site was nearly sold for redevelopment. The first government visitors to Bletchley Park described themselves as Captain Ridley's shooting party.

The estate was conveniently located on the "Varsity Line" (now largely closed) between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which supplied many of the codebreakers, at its junction with the main West Coast railway line from London. It was also chosen for its proximity to a major road (the A5) to London and to a route for telephone trunk lines.

Wartime history

Just before war broke out Biuro Szyfrów revealed Poland's achievements on decrypting German Enigma codes to British intelligence. The British used the information given to them by Poland as a basis for their own attempts to decrypt German Enigma signals. The "first wave" of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) moved to Bletchley Park on 15 August 1939. The main body of GC&CS, including its Naval, Military and Air Sections was on the ground floor of the house, together with a telephone exchange, a teleprinter room, a kitchen and a dining room for all the staff. The top floor was allocated to MI6. The prefabricated wooden huts were still being erected, and initially the entire "shooting party" was crowded into the existing house, its stables and cottages. These were too small, so Elmers School, a neighbouring boys' boarding school was acquired for the Commercial and Diplomatic Sections .

A wireless room was set up in the mansion's water tower and given the code name "Station X", a term now sometimes applied to the codebreaking efforts at Bletchley as a whole. The "X" simply denotes the number "10" in Roman numerals, as this was the tenth such station to be opened. Due to the long radio aerials stretching from the wireless room, the radio station was moved from Bletchley Park to nearby Whaddon to avoid drawing attention to the site.

Listening stations – the Y-stations (such as the ones at Chicksands in Bedfordshire and Beaumanor Hall in Leicestershire, the War Office "Y" Group HQ) – gathered raw signals for processing at Bletchley. Coded messages were taken down by hand and sent to Bletchley on paper by motorcycle couriers or, later, by teleprinter. Bletchley Park is mainly remembered for breaking messages enciphered on the German Enigma cypher machine, but its greatest cryptographic achievement may have been the breaking of the German "Fish" High Command teleprinter cyphers.

The intelligence produced from decrypts at Bletchley was code-named "Ultra". It contributed greatly to the Allied success in defeating the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, and to the British naval victories of Battle of Cape Matapan and the Battle of North Cape.

When the United States joined the war Churchill agreed with Roosevelt to pool resources and a number of American cryptographers were posted to Bletchley Park. Whilst the British continued to work on German cyphers, the Americans concentrated on the Japanese ones.

The only direct action that the site experienced was when three bombs, thought to have been intended for Bletchley railway station, were dropped on 20 November21 November 1940. One bomb exploded next to the dispatch riders' entrance, shifting the whole of Hut 4 (the Naval Intelligence hut) two feet on its base. As the huts stood on brick pillars, workmen just winched it back into position whilst work continued inside.

An outpost of Bletchley Park was set up at Kilindini, Kenya, to break and decipher Japanese codes. With a mixture of skill and good fortune, this was successfully done: the Japanese merchant marine suffered 90 per cent losses by August 1945, a result of decrypts.

After the war, Churchill referred to the Bletchley staff as "My geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.


Most of the messages subjected to cryptanalysis at BP were enciphered with some variation of the Enigma cipher machine.

From 1943, Colossus, one of the earliest digital electronic computers, was constructed in order to break the German teleprinter on-line Lorenz cipher known as Tunny. Colossus was designed and built by Tommy Flowers and his team at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill. The Colossus series of machines, of which there were ten by the end of the war, were operated at Bletchley Park in a section named the Newmanry after its head Max Newman.

Some 9,000 people were working at Bletchley Park at the height of the codebreaking efforts in January 1945, and over 10,000 worked there at some point during the war. Among the famous mathematicians and cryptanalysts working there, perhaps the most influential and certainly the best-known in later years was Alan Turing. A number of Bletchley Park employees were recruited for various intellectual achievements, whether they were chess champions, crossword experts, polyglots or great mathematicians. In one, now well known instance, the ability to solve The Daily Telegraph crossword in under 12 minutes was used as a recruitment test. The newspaper was asked to organise a crossword competition, after which each of the successful participants was contacted and asked if they would be prepared to undertake "a particular type of work as a contribution to the war effort". The competition itself was won by F H W Hawes of Dagenham who finished the crossword in less than eight minutes.

After the war

At the end of the war, much of the equipment used and its blueprints were destroyed. Although thousands of people were involved in the decoding efforts, the participants remained silent for decades about what they had done during the war, and it was only in the 1970s that the work at Bletchley Park was revealed to the general public. After the war, the site belonged to several owners, including British Telecom, the Civil Aviation Authority and PACE (Property Advisors to the Civil Estate). GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), the post-war successor organisation to GC&CS, ended training courses at Bletchley Park in 1987.

The local headquarters for the GPO was based here and housed all the engineers for the local area together with all the support they needed. The Eastern Region training school was also based in the park and later part of the national BT management college which was relocated here from Horwood House. There was also a teacher-training college.

By 1991, the site was nearly empty and the buildings were at risk of demolition for redevelopment. On 10 February 1992, Milton Keynes Borough Council declared most of the Park a conservation area. Three days later, on 13 February 1992, the Bletchley Park Trust was formed to maintain the site as a museum devoted to the codebreakers. The site opened to visitors in 1993, with the museum officially inaugurated by HRH the Duke of Kent, as Chief Patron, in July 1994. On 10 June 1999 the Trust concluded an agreement with the landowner, giving control over much of the site to the Trust.

The Trust is volunteer-based and relies on public support to continue its efforts. Christine Large was appointed Director of the Trust in March 1998. On 1 March 2006, the Park Trust announced that Simon Greenish had been appointed Director Designate, and would work alongside Large in 2006, taking over on 1 May 2006.

In October 2005, American billionaire Sidney Frank donated £500,000 to Bletchley Park Trust to fund a new Science Centre dedicated to Alan Turing.

A team headed by Tony Sale has undertaken a reconstruction of a Colossus computer in H block. Another team has undertaken a rebuild of the bombe, led by John Harper. On 6 September 2006, the Trust demonstrated that the Bombe was back in action.

In April 2008 the General Manager of the Radio Society of Great Britain announced that they were moving the Society's "public headquarters" (library, radio station, museum and bookshop) to Bletchley Park. The RSGB intented to open the "RSGB Pavilion" in Bletchley Park in late summer to early autumn 2008. However the building allocated to them was beyond economical repair and there are proposals for the construction of a new building within Bletchley Park.

In May 2008 it was announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation turned down a request for funds because the foundation only funds Internet-based technology projects. Since Bletchley Park receives no external funding, they are in dire need of financial support. Simon Greenish, the Bletchley Park Trust's director said:

We are just about surviving. Money—or lack of it—is our big problem here. I think we have two to three more years of survival, but we need this time to find a solution to this.

On 24 July 2008 more than 100 academics signed a letter to The Times condemning the neglect being suffered by the site. In September 2008, PGP, IBM and other technology firms announced a fund-raising campaign to repair the facility.


The huts were designated by numbers; in some cases, the hut numbers became associated as much with the work which went on inside the buildings as with the buildings themselves. Because of this, when a section moved from a hut into a larger building, they were still referred to by their "Hut" code name.

Some of the hut numbers, and the associated work, are:

  • Hut 1 – the first hut, built in 1939

  • Hut 3 – intelligence: translation and analysis of Army and Air Force Enigma decrypts
  • Hut 4 – Naval intelligence: analysis of Naval Enigma decrypts

  • Hut 8 – Cryptanalysis Naval Enigma

  • Hut 10 – Meteorological section
  • Hut 11 – The first Bombe building
  • Hut 14 – main teleprinter building

In popular culture

  • Bletchley came to wider public attention from the 1999 documentary series Station X.
  • Bletchley featured heavily in Enigma and its 2001 film adaptation
  • The BBC Radio 4 sitcom Hut 33 is also set at Bletchley.
  • The ITV television serial Danger UXB featured the character Steven Mount who was a codebreaker at Bletchley, and was driven to a nervous breakdown (and eventual suicide) by the stressful and repetitive nature of the work.
  • A fictionalized version of Bletchley Park is featured in the novel Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

See also


Further reading

  • Ted Enever, Britain's Best Kept Secret: Ultra's Base at Bletchley Park, 3rd edition, 1999, ISBN 0750923555.
  • F. H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp, eds. Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0198203276.
  • Christine Large, Hijacking Enigma: The Insider's Tale, 2003, ISBN 0470863463.
  • Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, Enigma: the Battle for the Code, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000, ISBN 9780471490357.
  • Michael Smith, Station X, Channel 4 Books, 1998. ISBN 0330419293 or ISBN 0752221892
  • Doreen Luke's - My Road to Bletchley Park
  • Peter Hilton, " Reminiscences of Bletchley Park, 1942-1945", AMS History of Mathematics, Volume 1: A Century of Mathematics in America, AMS, Providence, RI, 1988,

External links

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