Scientists send clear message: save Bletchley Park

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Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre that helped to win the Second World War and launch the modern computer, is in danger of irreparable decay unless the Government steps in to save it, some of the country’s leading computer scientists caution today.

In a letter to The Times, 97 senior experts, mostly professors and heads of department, say that “the ravages of age and a lack of investment” have left the historic site under threat.

One of the unheated wooden huts where the codebreakers worked day and night to turn the tide of the war now looks “like a garden shed that’s been left for 60 years”, according to Sue Black, head of the Department of Information and Software Systems at the University of Westminster and one of the organisers of the letter.

A dirty tarpaulin keeps out the rain, and several of the eight surviving huts have peeling paint and boarded-up windows.

Time was running out, she said. “If we don’t do something now we’re going to lose what’s left. If we leave it ten years it might be too late.”

The signatories call for Bletchley Park to be made the home of a national museum of computing. Bletchley is open to the public as a museum but receives no public funds and the signatories say that many of the huts where the codebreaking occurred are in a terrible state of repair.

“As a nation we cannot allow this crucial and unique piece of both British and world heritage to be neglected in this way. The future of the site, buildings, resources and equipment at Bletchley Park must be preserved for future generations,” they say. Dr Black said yesterday that the site “is fundamental for the history of computing because we wouldn’t have the computers we’ve got now without it, and fundamental for our history because we might not have won the war without it”. Bletchley, a Victorian mansion in what was then the Buckinghamshire countryside, was an unlikely place for such an achievement. But it was there that the Government Code and Cipher School arrived in 1939, masquerading as Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party.

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