Enigma code breakers' centre to be a computer theme park

THE CRYPTOLOGISTS who pored over Nazi Enigma codes there may blanch at the prospect but Bletchley Park, the government intelligence centre where their work is said to have shortened the Second World War, seems likely to become a computer technology theme park.

The mansion, set in 55 acres, seemed certain to disappear because of its potential value to property developers but negotiations with the landowners look likely to secure the site's future under the control of a trust. Fittingly, details were shrouded in a fair amount of secrecy yesterday. Talks with landowners, British Telecom, and the government land agency, PACE, are at a delicate stage, said chief executive Christine Large.

A spokeswoman also said there was no truth that Bill Gates, head of Microsoft, could become a sponsor, though there are strong rumours that he has been approached.

Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire (wartime codename: Station X), is where the world's first programmable computer was developed. It is considered to be the cradle of the computer age. It has been featured in a recent Channel 4 documentary, Station X, and Robert Harris's best- selling novel Enigma. Both illustrated how the house and its ramshackle huts housed a remarkable collection of mathematicians, crossword experts and intelligence officers, working around the clock to wreck Hitler's codes. It was where Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician, developed the precursor of today's computers.

Bletchley Park received its greatest acclaim for cracking the Enigma machine code (used by German U-boats to communicate), allowing Allied Atlantic convoys to continue. Thousands of lives were saved.

There were fears that Bletchley, which has planning permission for housing, would be sold for redevelopment. Instead, plans for a museum are likely to feature the work carried out by its unsung war heroes. It may become a museum of communications, showing how Britain invented the computer.

A trust spokesman said there are plans to create "a living memorial to the Second World War intelligence work, computing and cryptology through an integrated theme park of international repute". An announcement is expected next week.

"I think [Bill] Gates would be a natural benefactor," said Harris. "Without the work - and the genius - of the people there he would certainly not have become anything like as fabulously wealthy."

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