I have wanted to visit the place for years, having read about it and seeing many documentaries. I had also heard that much of the site was in bad shape, but I was frankly not prepared for what I saw. As you can see in the photos, many of the buildings are in an advanced stage of decay. Blistered paint exposes bare wood, exposing the structures to rot and insects. Some eavestroughs are packed with composted material, providing a home to rooting plants, further damaging the buildings. Rodents have merrily chewed their way through neglected structures. The roofs on many buildings clearly require repair or replacement.
This all sounds pretty bad, yes? Yet behind the crumbling buildings a very dedicated group of volunteers is highly committed to Bletchley’s preservation. And after years of struggle, they may have finally raised enough awareness about Bletchley to attract the financial support necessary to help save it.
The site is run largely by volunteers, deeply committed to stemming the decay and telling the story of one of World War II’s most secret operations. Their enthusiasm is simply amazing. The tour guide on our visit was very knowledgeable as he expertly guided us around the grounds. I think that touring the grounds without a guide would have been pointless.
But they have done such an amazing job there that Bletchley Park is finally getting the attention—and some of the funding it richly deserves.
In December 2010 the Prince’s Regeneration Trust will share plans for some vital improvements to Bletchley that will both conserve some buildings and enhance the visitor experience. Bletchley Park’s Trustees have approved a new masterplan that will see the restoration of some buildings, including the original huts. The plan also calls for more capacity to handle school and tour group visits—an important revenue stream. A professional exhibition design firm will create new interpretation and exhibit elements.
In 2009 the Trust received £460,000 from Britain’s Heritage Lottery Fund. Then the Prince’s Regeneration Trust was appointed to help move toward a further application from the Fund for £4.1 million.
In a November 2010 news release, Simon Greenish, Chief Executive Officer of Bletchley Park Trust said, “Bletchley Park is a huge local asset and we want the whole community, including those involved with the site to local residents in and around Milton Keynes to regard it as their asset. We already have an enormously dedicated team of staff and volunteers who help deliver our story and have provided valuable input into our future plans, and now we want to hear from other members of our community.”
I certainly agree with Mr. Greenish. At the same time, it is not a stretch to say that Bletchley Park is a Commonwealth, if not world heritage site, as well. The codebreakers at Bletchley Park saved countless Allied lives. It is beyond doubt that the work accomplished there hastened the end of WWII.
Some highlights of Bletchley Park:
– Numerous Enigma machines, all of which can be seen up close
– The main building (pictured) featuring a hodgepodge of numerous architectural styles by original estate owner Sir Herbert Samuel Leon (1850-1926)
– Stephen Kettle’s 2007 statue of Alan Turing
– Colossus Rebuild Project, an authentic working rebuild of the world’s first semi-programmable computer.
– The Bombe Room, home to the giant machines that made code-breaking possible.
– The gift shop, which contains a good collection of books about Bletchley, intelligence, counter-intelligence and World War II history.
The Bletchley Park website includes lots of information about the site that will help you plan a visit.
Bletchley Park’s future is a bit more assured, now that it is getting more of the attention it deserves. Public support, government advocacy and more visitors will help sustain this important site and stem the decay.
You too can Donate to Bletchley Park and help its rebirth and preservation.
There is also a drive underway to purchase the papers of brilliant codebreaker Alan Turing. Please Help Save Turing Papers via this link.
John Ecker / Pantheon