Secret Early Days of Bletchley Park revealed in new exhibition
Visitors will be able to chart the arrival of the first Codebreakers at Bletchley Park in a new exhibition opening on Monday 17 May, when the Buckinghamshire museum reopens for the first time since December 2020.
The new permanent exhibition, supported with funding from the UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund, focuses on the Government Code & Cypher School’s (GC&CS) work from 1938 to late 1939, a key part of the Bletchley Park story that has not been covered in detail on site before.
Based on new research, visitors will discover how Bletchley Park, a country estate, was secretly chosen to be a wartime base, and how GC&CS began urgently preparing to increase its peacetime workforce of around 150 in order to cope with the huge codebreaking task that was coming. By January 1945, this workforce would peak at almost 9,000 women and men based at Bletchley Park and its Bombe outstations.
The exhibition is spread out over five sections in the Drawing Room in the historic Mansion, one of the first rooms to be used by the Codebreakers in autumn 1939.
Exhibition highlights include:
- A unique diagram of all 185 people who were working at Bletchley Park on Monday 4 September 1939, the day after war was declared, including famous names like Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman.
- The ‘Emergency List’ – for the first time, the names of the 114 men and women considered for possible work at GC&CS on the outbreak of war have been complied into one list. Includes famous names like J.R.R. Tolkien*, as well as less well-known female cryptanalysts such as Amy Marjorie Dale.
- Rare first-hand accounts of GC&CS’s 1938 evacuation to Bletchley Park, when war looked likely.
- Incredibly rare photos of Bletchley Park taken in the early days of World War Two, showing actual codebreaking work as well as snapshots of staff off-duty.
- The 1937 sales catalogue with rare photos of the Mansion’s main rooms when the site was put up for sale by the Leon family.
- Historic maps that show how Bletchley Park was perfectly placed as a secluded countryside site still close to transport and telecommunication links to London and the rest of the UK.
Bletchley Park Trust’s Exhibition Manager, Erica Munro said:
“We’ve chosen to tell the story of how Bletchley Park became the wartime home of GC&CS in one of the very first rooms used for codebreaking on site. It’s an important part of the story we haven’t covered in such detail before. Visitors will be able to put themselves in the shoes of those who were tasked with finding a suitable site and the people recruited to help with Britain’s codebreaking effort. The new exhibition helps bust a few myths about why Bletchley Park was chosen and highlight some less familiar figures who were key to its early success.”
Bletchley Park’s Research Officer, Dr Thomas Cheetham, added: “I hope the exhibition will encourage visitors to see not just the beginning but the whole of the Bletchley Park story in a different light. At the start of the war success was not pre-ordained and the way forward was very unclear, but in spite of that this period laid the foundations for later achievements. GC&CS’s ultimate contribution to the war effort depended on the dedication and ambition of the early pioneers, so it is exciting that, for the first time, we are able to name them and present a picture of what the whole organisation looked like on Britain’s first day at war.”
Bletchley Park reopens on Monday 17 May 2021, in line with the latest government guidance. Entry to the exhibition is included in the general admission ticket, which also acts as an Annual Season Pass, giving unlimited free returns within a year.
Under 12s visit for free. Pre-booking essential. Visit the Bletchley Park website for further details.
*Tolkien was one of 117 academics and civilians who were selected for possible recruitment to Bletchley Park, and undertook a codebreaking training course in March 1939. He was not selected to work for GC&CS during the war, instead continuing as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, and writing The Lord of the Rings.