Bletchley Park 'in terrible state of disrepair'

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The Independent Online

The code-breaking centre that helped win the Second World War is in danger of irreparable decay unless the Government steps in to help, leading scientists said yesterday.

A letter signed by 97 leading academics and sent to a national newspaper said Bletchley Park, the government's code-breaking centre in the 1940s and the place where scientists laid the foundations for the first modern computers, is in a "terrible state of disrepair" because of a lack of investment. The signatories said the site in Milton Keynes should be made the home of a national museum of computing.

Bletchley is open to the public as a museum, but receives no public funds.

The letter said: "Although there has recently been some progress in generating income, without fundamental support, Bletchley Park is still under threat, this time from the ravages of age and a lack of investment. Many of the huts where the code-breaking occurred are in a terrible state of disrepair."

Bletchley Park, a Victorian mansion estate, played a fundamental role in winning the war. The Government Code and Cipher School arrived there in 1939 and its mathematicians managed to crack the complex Enigma codes, which the Germans thought were unbreakable.

After the war, Winston Churchill, who told workers they were the "geese that laid the golden egg", destroyed all evidence of the code-breaking programme.

The letter, from scientists including the directors of both Oxford and Cambridge universities' computing laboratories, continued: "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."

By the end of the war, 63 million characters of high-grade German messages had been decrypted by the 550 people working on the Colossus machines at Bletchley Park.

Workers were sworn to secrecy, but in 2006 the Colossus machine was put back together using eight photographs of it taken in 1945, as well as circuit diagrams which were kept illegally by engineers who had worked on the project.

The authors of the letter included Professor Keith van Rijsbergen, the chairman of this year's Research Assessment Exercise, computer science and informatics sub-panel; Professor Bill Roscoe, the director of Oxford University's computing laboratory; Professor Jean Bacon, of Cambridge University's computer laboratory; Professor Ian Sommerville, of the University of St Andrews; and Professor Robert Churchouse, of Cardiff University.