In general terms, it is a 130-year-old mansion house, converted for use by code-breakers during World War II, and it is about 50 miles north of London. Specifically, it is on the south side of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, a burgeoning commercial and industrial center that has really only come into being since the 1950s. If you’ve heard of MK heretofore, it may have only been because it is central to where a lot of Formula 1 racing teams, such as Red Bull (nee Jaguar, nee Stewart Racing) are headquartered.
During WWII, the area was largely farmland. The Bletchley Park site, comprised of about 58 acres, was originally part of a larger estate of 581 acres that dates to at least the early 1700s. A mansion of some kind existed there in 1711, but it was demolished sometime after the property changed hands in 1793. A subsequent farmhouse constructed there was expanded in the 1880s into the sprawling mish-mash of Victorian, Gothic, Tudor and Baroque architecture we know today.
The mansion and surrounding land was bought in 1938 by a developer, who planned a housing estate there. But he was overruled later that year by Britain’s MI6 secret service, which decided to acquire B.P., as it is nicknamed, for secret intelligence work in case war broke out.
The site was a mixed blessing, from a strategic standpoint. It was right next to a railway station on the “Varsity Line” that ran between Oxford and Cambridge, the universities from which many of the intelligence workers were recruited. And it also connected to the main line that ran from London in the south, all the way to Liverpool (and Scotland) in the north. Likewise, it was close to the main highway (now the A5) that connected London and Birmingham. High-volume telegraph and telephone lines also were strung through the area.
But it turned out to be not beyond the range of German bombs, which was proven one night in 1940 when three bombs – probably meant for the railway station – dropped squarely on one of the huts. The damage was quickly repaired, and no one was hurt.
After the war, the site was largely abandoned, and various developers again tried to re-purpose the property. But in the early 1990s, Milton Keynes elected officials recognized it for its wartime strategic importance, and designated it as a park. It has been open for tours.
Since 2007, Bletchley Park has been the site of the National Museum of Computing. It features, among other things, reconstructed versions of the pioneering Colossus computer devised in large part by the genius mathematician Alan Turing, around whom the movie revolves.
In 2014, the museum, which is undergoing ongoing restoration, was officially “re-opened.”
December 28, 2014