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Posted on April 12th, 2013 by Nicole Kobie

The rotten side of Bletchley Park: a photo story

Hut 3

Britain’s computing heritage is literally rotting away. One of the most famous buildings at Bletchley Park — or what should be famous, at least — is Hut 6, where much of the key work on the Enigma took place during the war, and the subject of the first British book to really discuss what happened at Britain’s code-breaking centre.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Bletchley Park, it may sound extreme to describe it as rotting. Back in 2008, its supporters called for funding help, saying the estate “was in a terrible state of disrepair”, and under threat of being lost entirely. Donations and funding poured in, and visiting the place now is a wonderful experience.

Indeed, the success of the initial rebuilding project masks how much work is still needed to save Bletchley Park. The buildings that are open to the public have been fully restored to their 1940s glory, with intriguing displays and magnificently rebuilt machinery. However, there’s still a good deal of work to do.

While at Bletchley Park for the launch of Google’s map editing tools in the UK, journalists were given a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the buildings that are about to be rebuilt.

Our first stop was into Hut 6, which is about to be renovated in order to be opened to the public for the first time.

Hut 6

To enter, we needed to wear hard hats. The ceiling was wobbly — presumably from water damage over the years — and the flooring had sporadically caved-in. The Bletchley Park fundraising team did not exaggerate the disrepair, it’s fair to say.

Hut 6

Hut 6

From there, we walked around to D Block, where the workers of Hut 6 moved to because there were simply too many of them to fit into the original building’s tiny rooms. At its peak in WW2, Bletchley had more than 8,000 employees. (Intriguingly, two-thirds were women, and the vast majority between the ages of 18 and 21.)

D Block exterior

This building is more of a maze, with corridors slinking off in every direction. Our tour guide Joel Greenberg said that people who worked there during the war described to him that they moved around via tunnels — there weren’t any tunnels, but the hallways were so dark and small they felt that way.

Unhinged in D Block

D Block

Staff worked in three, eight-hour shifts — well, they were supposed to, but often were so absorbed in problem-solving that they just carried on working. It’s hard to imagine being locked down in such rooms, especially at night, unable to stop working because the necessity to crack codes and analyse data was so great.

This labyrinth-like building is a mess, however, so regular visitors don’t see it. Visits are kept at less than half an hour, as there are concerns about the pigeon waste and asbestos; the two blobs on the floor at the end of this corridor are birds, and I’m afraid to say they weren’t just having a nap.

D Block pigeons

Such dilapidation is a huge shame. The good people running Bletchley Park have worked wonders to get the main buildings rebuilt and ready for visitors; hopefully the support continues and these other historical locations can also return to their former glory and be opened to the public.

As Greenberg noted, the crytopgraphers are but one side of the Bletchley story — the “sexy stuff”, he admits. The additional space would allow the stories about the index team — who essentially created a card-based database of all the information intercepted — and the other intriguing work that happened here during the war to finally be told.


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17 Responses to “ The rotten side of Bletchley Park: a photo story ”

  1. Kev Partner Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Brilliant pics, Nicole. Bletchley Park is one of my favourite places (although I tend to spend more time in the National Museum of Computing playing with the Spectrums than in the huts) and deserves the nation’s gratitude and support. That doesn’t mean it’ll receive it though.

  2. wittgenfrog Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    A national disgrace.

    It appears we can afford tens of millions to fund a ‘State’ funeral for our most divisive PM in modern times, but no cash to preserve Bletchley. Particularly stupid when the Iron Lady herself allegedly refused such festivities.

  3. technogeist Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I’m glad to hear some progress is being made with restoration. Slow as it may be.

    When they’ve completed hut 6, I do hope they chain a mug to a radiator for authenticity. A.M.Turing woz ere.

  4. realist Says:
    April 13th, 2013 at 11:27 am

    It’s only an old hut; knock it down. Make a virtual reality simulation of what it used to look like and remember the great work that was done there that way.

  5. david bradbury Says:
    April 14th, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Whilst I normally agree with Nicole, on this occasion, I have to side with (4)realist. Some of the buildings look dangerous, beyond repair and of no architectual merit. The work done in these sheds and bunker like corridors was outstanding but a better legacy to this would would be to enhance what has been saved, encourage enthusiasm for engineering, maths, computing etc. Why not put up some hi-tech starter units on the site instead of some static buildings? The old work would be there to encourage the new.

  6. Malcolm Lawrie Says:
    April 14th, 2013 at 10:26 am

    In 1970 I joined the Diplomatic Wireless Service (DWS) and along with two colleagues was housed in a room in hut 6. It was run down and depressed then and by way of escape we became very familiar with every village pub within 20 mile radius.

  7. PDA Says:
    April 14th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I thought Google had coughed up some cash for the rebuild already?

  8. Jo Buckley Says:
    April 15th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Also agree with realist & David.

  9. rogerp Says:
    April 16th, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Nice pics – thanks. I think that because of the great interest in BP, then preserve it while it still possible. There is a tingling feeling when in the buildings because we know about the people who were there and what they did. Battlefields have visitor’s centres with displays – here the original buildings are already present. Let’s preserve them for another generation.

  10. DavidN Says:
    April 17th, 2013 at 9:09 am

    The merits of what happened at BP was nothing to do with bricks and mortar.

  11. richtea Says:
    April 18th, 2013 at 9:24 am

    As a keen student of WW2, I say raise BPk to the ground. Meadows would look much better and require minimum upkeep. Preservation of history rests in recollecting the spirit, not ogling some shoddy buildings.

  12. Barry Says:
    April 18th, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Let it go! Now that the archives are open and the propaganda is at bay, we know that they did not break Enigma in BP but get it on a silver plate in 1939 after declining to try to break it earlier (they considered it impossible) maybe some building should be preserved in Poland where the break actually took place…

  13. Stan Says:
    April 18th, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Money would be better spent housing our deserving brothers and sisters from eastern europe.

  14. Barry Says:
    April 20th, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Poland is in central Europe last time I checked, you know the cold war terminology no longer apply :-) . You are right though – we should show at least some token gratitude (according to WW2 experts having access to German messages shortened the war by at least 2 years) after 50 years of pretending that the accomplishments of others were ours.

  15. Pan Says:
    April 30th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Please repair the buildings. Yes, preservation history is in recollecting the spirit, but monuments to that spirit recognize the lives committed to that spirit and perhaps, may even inspire a contemporary spirit.

  16. Mark Cotton Says:
    October 8th, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Barry, you need to do a little more research I think. The meeting in France between BP Staff, the French & Polish Codebreakers gave the British a “route” into Enigma. Within months it had changed again meaning the Polish work no longer could be used to break it. Also the British never “declined” to break it.

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    March 25th, 2014 at 12:30 pm

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