History Of Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park lies 50 miles (80km) north-west of London close to the North-Western Railway line through Bletchley in the heart of Buckinghamshire.

In 1883, Herbert Samuel Leon, a wealthy City of London financier, bought 300 acres of land. He built the Mansion as the home of the Leon family and developed sixty acres into a country estate. Herbery Leon became one of Bletchley's greatest benefactors was awarded a baronetcy in 1911.

Following the deaths of Sir Herbert and Lady Leon, the Park fell into the hands of property developer Captain Hubert Faulkner, who intended to demolish the buildings and sell the land as a housing site. But this was 1938 and the threat of Hitler and war was growing rapidly. The Government Code and Cypher School, then based in London, needed a safe home for its intelligence work unhindered by enemy air attacks. Strategically well placed at a junction of major road, rail and teleprinter connections to all parts of the country, Bletchley Park was perfect and the Park was purchased by the UK Government.

Commanded by Alastair Denniston, the Park was given the cover name 'Station X', the tenth of a number of sites acquired by MI6 for its wartime operations. After meticulous preparation and a series of trial runs, the codebreakers arrived in August 1939 masquerading as 'Captain Ridley's Shooting Party'. This was to be the first instalment in one of the most remarkable stories of the Second World War.

The Enigma cypher was the backbone of German military and intelligence communications. Invented in 1918, it was initially designed to secure banking communications but the German military machine saw an opportunity in military intelligence. Enigma's complexity was bewildering and German intelligence thought it to be unbreakable. However,the Poles had broken Enigma in 1932, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials with the German Army and had even reconstructed a machine. In July 1939, they passed on their knowledge to the British and the French. This enabled the Codebreakers to better understand the workings of the Enigma and in particular the order in which the keys were attached to the electrical circuits. The Codebreakers were able to exploit a chink in Enigma's armour. A fundamental flaw meant that no letter could ever be encrypted as itself. This gave the codebreakers a toehold and errors in messages sent by German operators also gave clues.

For further information on heritage activities, please visit the Bletchley Park Heritage Website at www.bletchleypark.org.

In January 1940 came the first break into Enigma. The Enigma decrypt teams worked in Huts 3,6,4 and 8; the huts operated in pairs and, for security reasons, were known only by their numbers. The codebreakers concentrating on the Army and Air Force cyphers were based in Hut 6, supported by a team in Hut 3 who turned the decyphered messages into intelligence reports. Hut 8 decoded messages from the German Navy, with Hut 4 the associated naval intelligence hut. Their raw material came from the 'Y' Stations: a network of wireless intercept stations around Britain and overseas, which listened in to enemy radio messages and sent them to Bletchley Park.

Initially the codebreaking process was long and laborious. To speed up the process, the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing developed an idea originally proposed by Polish cryptanalysts. The result was the Bombe: an electro-mechanical machine that greatly reduced the odds, and thereby the time required, to break the daily-changing Enigma keys (see Technology History).

During the war up to 10,000 personnel were employed on the site as it provided around the clock data processing and decoding services to support the allies' military intelligence machine.

At the end of World War II and with the advent of the Cold War, Churchill believed it was vital that the USSR, Britain's former ally, should learn nothing of Bletchley Park's achievements. The thousands who had worked here departed. Some continued to use their remarkable expertise in the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The Park subsequently became home to a variety of training schools: for teachers, Post Office workers, air traffic control system engineers, and members of GCHQ. In 1987, after a fifty-year association with British Intelligence, Bletchley Park was finally decommissioned.

It was not until the mid-1970s, when the wartime information was declassified, that the truth began to emerge of the Codebreakers' activities and achievements in foreshortening the war and in advancing information and communications technology. Nevertheless, it was still another 25 years before Bletchley Park's future was better secured.

In 1991, the site was almost empty and plans were made once again to to demolish the buildings for a housing development. In May 1991 the Bletchley Archaeological and Historical Society brought together former codebreakers for a farewell before the site was destroyed, but it was agreed that they would attempt to save the site for posterity. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed on 13 February 1992, and negotiations began with the site's landowners, the Government's land agency, PACE, and BT. The negotations were successful and the Park was opened to its first visitors in 1993 with the help of volunteers and enthusiasts. HRH The Duke of Kent became Chief Patron and officially opened the Bletchley Park Museum in July 1994. In 1998, the Trust began fresh negotiations with the landowners to acquire a substantial part of the site in order to preserve and enhance it for the national good. In June 1999, the Trust was granted an initial 250-year lease on the core historic areas of the site. In 2000, the Trust's strategic plan was approved.

Against this incredible historical background, Bletchley Park Capital Partners is proud to be working with the Trust to help secure Bletchley Park's long-term future founded on the key pillars of heritage, education, innovation and enterprise.