Bletchley Park and TNMOC: the cracks between the codebreakers
A final £4.6 million injection from the Heritage Lottery Fund gave Bletchley a total of £8 million to preserve at-risk huts and prepare the park to receive more visitors.
Bletchley is now barely recognisable from the ramshackle mess of a few years ago, and much more will change before it reopens to the public in June.
The park used to be a do-it-yourself day trip: upon arrival, it wasn’t clear exactly where visitors were supposed to go, and guided tours were necessary to fully comprehend what you were looking at.
The famous huts – temporary buildings put up during the war to house extra code-breakers – were in disrepair. On a tour last year before the renovations began, we were forced to wear hard hats before we were shown inside Hut 6.
The walls and ceiling were warped, and in places the floor had caved in. A short walk away in D Block, dead pigeons littered the floor.
A return visit this February showed a marked improvement. The warped hut had been refurbished. The renovations have been sensitively done: the fresh coat of green paint is the same type as that used during the war; replacement floorboards have been sourced from disused wartime buildings elsewhere; and hallways and rooms have been artfully aged by experts, who’ve added cigarette-smoke stains to the ceilings and fingerprint marks around light switches.
“Each hut, which you could probably build from scratch for about £1,000, costs hundreds of thousands to restore,” says Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust.
These aren’t the only changes. The museum has been extended, with professional exhibits displaying intriguing collections, including the slightly out-of-place haul of Churchill memorabilia. There’s also a new visitors’ centre, making use of a previously tumbledown building. On our last visit, a tree had taken root in one room, but the building has now been restored to its wartime glory.
Such renovation efforts are exactly what supporters had hoped for at Bletchley Park. And yet, instead of celebrating, they’ve been dragged down by the dispute with TNMOC – and that’s at least partially because of another new addition by the builders.
Bucks’ Berlin Wall
Referred to by some as “the Berlin Wall”, the tall metal fence erected between the two sites has become a major sticking point between TNMOC and Bletchley Park. It’s a “disgrace” and a “blot on the Bletchley Park landscape”, says Kevin Murrell, a TNMOC trustee. It not only keeps visitors from understanding the scale of the park – much of which has been lost to housing – but also acts as a barrier to finding the computing museum.
Bletchley Park’s CEO says the fence has nothing to do with TNMOC, pointing out that it was a requirement of the Heritage Lottery Fund – it was concerned about the level of security at a site into which it had just invested a substantial sum. Bletchley can’t risk damage to the renovated hut from “local youths”, Standen says, and having the visitor area cordoned off means Bletchley can now hand visitors an iPod touch with a multimedia guide to the park preinstalled, without worrying about them wandering off into TNMOC.
The fence is unlikely to come down, but it needn’t be an impenetrable border between the two sites, either. The section of the fence closest to the museum has a gate, so it would be simple to allow visitors to exit there to visit the museum, and return by showing a ticket. However, “it wouldn’t work without a joint ticketing arrangement to open that gate”, says Standen, which he claims would be “complicated.”
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