Little known history of Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park fans are abuzz with the launching of the new film The Imitation Game, all about Alan Turing and the code-breaking world which inhabited this part of Bletchley. Another story which is perhaps less well known is how the code-breaking effort affected this part of Bletchley.

We know that thousands of people worked at this establishment, carrying out all types of job functions with only few of them knowing the full story. The work went on 24/7 and all these staff had to be billeted nearby the establishment , although I believe many had to be transported from Woburn Sands and even Bedford since the housing problem was so acute.

Some building work was undertaken, but great efforts were made to keep the establishment as low profile as possible, this was so that they would not attract any unwanted attention from the Nazi planes passing overhead. Bletchley was of course, a major rail junction too. So any building activity could have been interpreted by the enemy as transport infrastructure.

Now, as clever as that was, this also meant that it was still a target for bombing. The facility management went to a lot of trouble in disguising the apparent size of the facility and also at another level; the individual buildings which were needed. All sorts of infrastructure was disguised so that its size and nature were made to look as domestic as possible from the air. I came across one such building whilst I was measuring up for a domestic extension. This building took on the facade of a greenhouse and garage in the back garden of a property on the periphery of Bletchley Park. This building had an enormous steel water tank half-buried in it. Its purpose was to store water in the event of a fire, a very real possibility of course, with the obvious cause being enemy bombing. Another very real possible fire hazard was the experimental electrical equipment such as the Bombe, the risk of fire and its control must have been paramount.

You will see that the building was not very tall from the picture included. I suppose that given its nature, and that it was designed to look like a piece of domestic architecture from above, why use any more material than was needed? It actually looks as though it were built many years prior to the war, and so it is in contrast to the other buildings within the park itself, which look like the office accommodation thrown up all over the country housing the administrative effort required to prosecute the all consuming war.

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I know that all of this is not the most important part of the Bletchley Park story, but it fascinated me when I was told about this part. It made me think that we should recognise all of the background work which went on to create and keep Station X as Winston Churchill referred to it, safe. We should also bear in mind the unsung heroes who played their part too.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Bletchley Park.

The estate of Bletchley Park is most famously recognised as the place where most of the German Enigma code was cracked in World War 2.

It was originally a farmhouse which was extended to become the mansion it is today by London financier Sir Herbert Samuel Leon and remained his family home until the death of his wife in 1937, then the estate fell into the hands of property developers. There was a growing need for housing space due to the fact that London was grossly overpopulated, and so this must have been like Christmas for the developers! The buildings which made up the estate were going to be demolished, that is, until war broke out and Bletchley Park became one of the most important places of the time.

When Hitler was gaining power towards the end of the 1930’s London was not a safe place to be, and so the Government code-breakers needed a new home. Bletchley Park turned out to be a perfect place for this very need, it was situated at the center of major road, rail and communications networks in the UK. In 1939 the first code-breakers began moving in.

Among this wealth of history, the architecture of this site can often be forgotten. This was originally going to be a country estate, and nothing more. Who was to know that it would become such an influential place of knowledge, history and eventually become the main factor in winning the war?

The land was formerly apart of the Manor of Eaton. The main mansion itself is a great example of Victorian architecture, with a multitude of bay windows and designs in the walls created by the placement of different coloured bricks. The style of the buildings on the estate as a whole range between a mix of Victorian Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque. The architecture was often commented upon by anyone who worked there, or any visitors to the site.

It is still a place which triggers feelings of immense awe, even today it is preserved and visitors are welcome to delve into the history which is held there. There is even talk of the buildings which surround the mansion being renovated to their former war-time state so that you can get a real feeling of what it was like to work there in those times.

There was a style of architecture which was beginning to emerge before the war, called ‘the international style’. This is the style in which the outhouses surrounding the mansion were thought to have been built-in, even if they were built quickly to house the different departments of the code-breakers.┬áThe architects who were drafted in to design these buildings may have been working on this style around the time the war began, but there is a certain irony which the war brought about. This style was supposed to be based upon the creation of a ‘new world’ envisioned by people all over the world, a world without borders or barriers after world war one. But with world war two came the end of that vision in a sense. Barriers, borders and metal fences needed to be brought up rather quickly and thus, before it had even really begun, the international style movement was brought to a halt.

We will write more about the international style another time.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.