Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bletchley Park is Blooming

Despite the persistent drizzly rain yesterday it was clear that spring time had come to Bletchley Park in more ways than one.  The trees and flowers around the grounds were starting to blossom and bloom and inside the slightly rickety Second World War walls the museum is undergoing its own springtime.

After years of struggle to first save, then preserve and now, finally, improve this precious part of British history, the hard work by staff and volunteers is beginning to become obvious to even the most casual visitor.

By flickr user Draco2008
I've been visiting Bletchley Park for a long time and for a while it was hard to take a non-enthusiast around because the museum itself was a bit of a jumble.  BP simply didn't have the money (or spare time away from fighting for survival) to create a fantastic museum suitable for all.  But now it's really happening and it's easy to see how Bletchley Park's spring time can turn into summer.

It's easy for me to sing the praises of Bletchley Park because I'm so fascinated by the technical history of the place, but it's important to realize that Bletchley Park has something that most museums do not: the place is part of the exhibit.

Bletchley Park doesn't contain a collection of objects or stories of things that happened elsewhere.  When you walk through the front gates you are entering a time warp world.  Your first clue comes in the form of the low-rise buildings hastily constructed during the Second World War that first housed the code breakers and now house the museum itself.

For Bletchley Park is both place and museum, and unlike some stuffily preserved country house, it's full of life.  For as well as having the place and the exhibits, Bletchley Park is filled with the stories of what happened there.  And these stories are brought to life by a continuous stream of enthusiastic volunteers and veterans.

Of course, Bletchley Park is not today at the same level of sophistication as many British museums that have had years to perfect their displays and explanations (and in some cases drive out any enthusiasm that was present in their staff).

But the new things that are happening at Bletchley Park show the route to a glorious future to reflect its glorious past.  The new Alan Turing Exhibit has been deservedly nominated for the Art Fund Prize and puts the rebuilt Bombe in proper context.  Colossus has finally got a proper viewing gallery.  And the Radio Society of Great Britain has opened the National Radio Centre.

Couple that with the constant activities available (yesterday children were following the Easter Bunny around going on a children-themed visit) and Bletchley Park is becoming a great day out.  And it's easy to reach.  If you haven't visited Bletchley Park do so now before it becomes so popular that you are forced to apply for tickets on line with timed entry!

Of course, Bletchley Park isn't out of the woods yet.  Support is still needed and it still doesn't have any continuous form of government funding.  Donation information is here.

And, one specific project is looking for sponsors.  I've written before about the project to build one of Alan Turing's other inventions: Delilah.  Delilah was a secure speech system (or scrambler) that Turing worked on and thanks to the declassification of documents surrounding it, it is currently being reconstructed by the team that worked on the Bombe.  They are currently funding it out of their own pockets (to the tune of £1,000s) and are looking for sponsors (corporate or personal) to help finish the machine.  Contact me if you are interested.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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