Once the secret headquarters of British intelligence operations during World War II, Bletchley Park is open to visitors and makes for a fascinating day in a beautiful setting 50 miles outside London.
Secret code breaking
Bletchley Park is historically and scientifically important to our modern-day online lives. This is home to the National Codes and Cipher Centre, active during World War II. To escape prying eyes in Central London, the British government used Bletchley Park — which included a mansion and 300 acres — as its training grounds for secret intelligence work.
Bletchley inner circles
The ornate Victorian mansion just outside the town of Milton Keynes, about 50 miles northwest of London, was originally home to Sir Herbert Leon, a wealthy financier. Sir Herbert, a baron, was a politically active community benefactor with friends in high places, including David Lloyd-George, Britain's prime minister. Officials knew of the mansion, which was discreetly located near transportation hubs.
World War II
At the height of operations, as many as 10,000 experts worked day and night to crack Germany's encrypted messages, with varying degrees of both success and setbacks throughout the war. Absolutely critical to the Allies' task at hand was deciphering the codes created by the German Enigma Machine, an ingenious method of ciphering alphabet codes. Its spinning wheels look frightfully rudimentary to the modern eye, but it kept Allied intelligence in the dark.
In 1943, Bletchley was home to the forbears of the modern computer: Bombe and Colossus, the electronic digital processing machines that could read at 5,000 characters per second. The Nazi code-breaking success at Bletchley Park may have shortened the war by as much as two years.
In April 2012, a team of 60 volunteers completed the task of rebuilding the Bombe machine, which Churchill had destroyed at the close of World War II. It's now on display.
You can also see 10 different Enigma Machines recovered from German U-Boats and the Luftwaffe, the TIRPITZ used for communications with Japan, and the Enigma owned by Mussolini, recovered in Italy in 1945. Meet Colossus, the very first semi-programmable computer, at Bletchley Park's National Museum of Computing. Enjoy the café, grounds, lake and new playground, as well as other artifacts from the World War II era including a Winston Churchill collection.
Bletchley Park is open daily to visitors year round. Winter hours (November 1 - February 28) from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and summer hours (March 1 - October 31) from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. While Saturdays are sometimes used for conferences, weddings and banquets, Sundays are public open days.
Admission includes a highly informative 90-minute guided tour. Pricing is £12 ($19) for adults, £10 ($15.80) for seniors older than 60 and students with I.D., £6 ($3.80) for children ages 12-16, and free of charge to children under 12. A family ticket is priced at £26 ($16.40). Telephone: +44 (0)1908 640404 for information on what is open when you plan to visit.
Arrive by train out of London's Euston Station to Bletchley Railway Station near Milton Keynes. There's also easy motorway access on the M1; exit Junction 14. Driving directions and a map are on the park's website. There is also information for anyone requiring assistance with a visit.
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr