"Bletchley Park & the Forties Family Festival" Bletchley Things to Do Tip by milliturtle
Bletchley Things to Do: 5 reviews and 21 photos
Bletchley Park, referred to as Station X during World War II, was the center of codebreaking activities during the war. The military intelligence coming out of the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley was designated as Ultra secret and was instrumental in shortening the war. In fact, this place and its work was kept classified until the 70's. After the war, Bletchley Park was used as a training facility by the GC&CS (which later became the GCHQ, I think) until the mid-1980's. Unfortunately, after they moved out, the estate fell into disrepair and was almost torn down. It was only saved from demolition by a group of volunteers through obtaining Tree Preservation Orders of the park's trees!
A typical day visit to Bletchley Park will probably include a 1 to 1.5 hour tour around the estate led by dedicated volunteers. You will get a history of the origin of the estate as well as its evolution to becoming a big part of history. You will see the rock where Sir Winston Churchill made the speech about the goose who lay the golden eggs (i.e. the GC&CS). You will also hear stories of brilliant minds like Alan Turing that came through here. You also get to see the original "huts" used. And the coolest (to me anyway) is to see the rebuild of the colossus (in the Museum of Computing) and bombe rebuild (the original was destroyed) that were used to decode the enigma messages. After the tour, you can go on to see the Winston Churchill collection [some of the memorabilia was quite fascinating :)] and the Block B exhibition center to see the many forms of the enigma machine and learn more about the use of codes and ciphers during war. Oh, and there was an exhibit about Ian Fleming and spies when I went, although I think this may be a temporary exhibit. It will take the whole day, if not multiple visits, if you really want to go through the displays in detail. Luckily the somewhat expensive ticket (12 GBP) is good for a whole year.
Now, if you happen to be in the area around the end of May, Bletchley Park hosts an annual 2-day Forties Family Festival which takes you back in time. I had the good fortune to visit on the 2nd day of the festival on May 30, 2011. The park was filled with re-enactors and spectators dressed in 40's clothing. They also bring out the fantastically preserved antique vehicles and other war time items. They also ran a wartime radio station and invited men and women who served at Bletchley to tell their story. It is a very surreal experience - I even took a pickture with Sir Winston Churchill (impersonator)! Actually, he came in and gave us an "encouraging" speech before our tour. I missed day 1, but according to the brochure I got, they have an air show with the old planes. I only saw some of the planes parked in the parking lot outside the museum of computing. I think I spent about 5-6 hours there and was just able to "see" everything before I have to make it back to London.
It is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in World War II history, codebreaking, or even the history of computing and do not mind taking the 40 minute train out of London. It also complements a visit to the Churchill War Rooms very well. And while you are there, remember to send yourself or a friend an "ultra secret" post package from the Bletchley Park post office.
Directions: Take the London Midland train towards Milton Keys. Get off at Bletchley and just follow the signs. It is about 5 minutes away from the train station.
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