I’m really lucky to live very close to Bletchley Park. It’s a fascinating place for the whole family to visit but, just like every museum in the UK, Bletchley Park it closed its doors back in March and has only recently reopened them to the public again. I took advantage of a lovely day last week and ventured back to explore their latest exhibition and to see the new safety precautions that have been implemented.
For those who haven’t heard of Bletchley Park, it’s a country house in Buckinghamshire which was used as the base for the Government Code and Cypher School during the Second World War. It was the place where Allied mathematicians and codebreakers deciphered enemy communications and developed technology that could crack codes quickly. The work they carried out remained secret right up until the 1970s, but they are credited with having helped to end the war by at least two years and with developing early computer technology which ultimately led to devices like the laptop that I’m typing on right now. The movies Enigma and The Imitation Game are both based at Bletchley and the latter tells the story of the brilliant achievements of the mathematical genius Alan Turing.
The site was opened to the public in the early 1990s and was later the subject of a major restoration project which ended in 2014. The mansion, grounds, and the huts in which the codebreakers worked are open to visitors all year round. In the summer there are (usually) special 1940s weekends, and every Christmas the mansion becomes a grotto for a very special guest.
It’s such a special place and it was brilliant to be able to go back this week. Pre-booking is essential so we booked our slot online a couple of days in advance. COVID-19 safety measures were clear from the very first moment we arrived and we were greeted by a gentleman wearing a visor who directed us to the car park and explained that we should use the usual main entrance to get into the grounds. At the entrance there were automated dispensers for hand sanitiser and plexiglass screens between us and the staff. We picked up one of the activity packs which are full of puzzles, activities and codes to crack (they cost £1 and although the contents are for older children than my preschooler, they did keep me entertained for ages). The indoor exhibitions had clearly marked one-way systems but we decided that we wanted to head outside for a walk around the lake and across to the house.
We had actually arrived early enough in the day to be the only people inside the main building but the one-way system was clearly marked and the lovely staff and volunteers were happy to chat about being back. We explored the gardens, the playground (which we also had to ourselves) and the exhibitions inside the huts. The original buildings have been beautifully restored and contain lots of interactive exhibitions. They are not the most accessible places though and it’s difficult to negotiate them with buggies or wheelchairs. But, once again, the one-way route was clearly marked out and it was so quiet that social distancing was very easy.
Hut 11A tells the story of the Bombe machines which were built to decypher the Enigma codes and Hut 12 contains a temporary exhibition called Never Alone which is about modern day connectivity and how we seem to be online all the time. After moving on from the huts we went to the stable block to see the garages and the memorial to the Polish codebreakers who worked at Bletchley during the war.
The museum in Block B is beautifully laid out and easily accessible. It contains exhibitions about the history of Bletchley Park, Alan Turing, the processes behind breaking the different enemy codes and even the world’s largest collection of Enigma machines.
The site is currently filled with picnic tables, deck chairs, and lots of outdoor space for picnics. The cafe in Hut 4 is open with clearly marked social distancing measures and visitors are asked to wear face masks when ordering their food at the counter.
I’m delighted that Bletchley Park has been able to reopen so successfully. Congratulations to everyone for all their hard work. We had such a brilliant – and safe – visit that I’ve already booked to go again. You too can find out more about what on and book your visit by going to their website.