Bletchley Park prepares to run its biggest ever exhibition in Milton Keynes

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It will focus on objects, human stories and 'thrilling moments of interaction' during World War Two

Bletchley Park is set to unveil its largest ever exhibition next month.

'The Intelligence Factory' will open on Thursday April 28 when, for the first time in Bletchley Park’s history, visitors will be able to explore the newly restored Block A, a building at the heart of the historic World War Two codebreaking site.

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This Block will house the new permanent exhibition, telling the story of Bletchley Park at its peak in the largest exhibit space on site.

The new exhibition opens at Bletchley Park on April 28The new exhibition opens at Bletchley Park on April 28
The new exhibition opens at Bletchley Park on April 28

Taking visitors through Bletchley Park’s period of expansion to become the world’s largest intelligence factory, the exhibition will unveil how the extraordinary potential of the intelligence organisation was unleashed in the second half of World War Two, establishing a legacy that continues to this day.

The exhibition will focus on objects, human stories, and thrilling moments of interaction from Bletchley Park’s crucial work from 1942 to 1945, as its multi-skilled workforce rapidly increased to meet operational demands. The site expanded hugely to a workforce of nearly 9,000, 75% of whom were women.

It will shine a spotlight on the personal stories of those who worked to keep the organisation running. From tracking positions of Allied and enemy vessels, to handling millions of items of data, to recruiting, feeding, and housing thousands of staff, the scale and complexity of Bletchley Park at its peak as surprising as it is remarkable.

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Visitors will be able to view Bletchley Park through multiple lenses – from intimate portraits of staff to the day-to-day environment of the workplace itself and the organisational challenges involved in keeping the entire operation afloat. Snapshots of the present day will reveal the enduring legacy of techniques used at Bletchley Park, from tackling organised crime to supplying intelligence to forces in the field today.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

* A contemporary interactive recreation of the Plotting Room used by naval intelligence officers to track the movements of ships, based on first-hand accounts from Veterans who worked in this secretive room.

* A closeup look at wartime machinery, including a Hagelin C-38s cipher machine, and an original Hollerith machine of the sort employed at Bletchley Park to organise and process data using a staggering two million individual punch cards every week.

* Hands-on interactive displays allowing visitors to try their hand at real intelligence-management techniques used at Bletchley Park, and experience some of the daily challenges faced by managers in keeping the operation afloat under wartime conditions.

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* Snapshots of life at wartime Bletchley Park, including the personal stories of Veterans and senior managers like Captain Alan Bradshaw, a pivotal figure in the administration of the organisation, and Edward Travis, the head of Bletchley Park from 1942.

* Explorations of the contemporary parallels between Bletchley Park’s information-intensive wartime work and the digitised world of today.

* Recently discovered wartime footage captured at Whaddon Hall, the top-secret MI6 base situated near Bletchley Park from which intelligence was sent to Allied commanders in the field.

Alongside The Intelligence Factory, which fills two spurs of Block A, a third spur has been carefully adapted into a new gallery that will house temporary exhibitions.

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The first of these will be an 18-month contemporary exhibition The Art of Data: Making Sense of the World. Taking inspiration from the techniques used by the Codebreakers to manage information at scale, it will focus on how data visualisation helps us to make sense of the world today.

Analysis of MK Dons football players, a necklace that measures air pollution and a ground-breaking augmented reality Striker II fighter pilot’s helmet are just some of the thought-provoking data visualisations that will go on display, marking the first in a series of temporary exhibitions that will explore the legacy of Bletchley Park in a contemporary context.

Bletchley Park Trust is grateful for the support of BAE Systems as Lead Principal Sponsor for the Block A permanent exhibition. BAE Systems is an international defence technology company which delivers cyber security and maritime programmes across the globe. The sponsorship is the latest chapter of a partnership between Bletchley Park Trust and BAE Systems which aims to keep the shared heritage alive. 

Bletchley Park Trust is also pleased to have the Thomas L. Kempner, Jr., Foundation, Inc and the FCC Communities Foundation as project Principal Supporter.

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Milton Keynes Council has provided funding used to plan and organise the exhibition, while specific funding for access provision has been provided by MK Community Foundation.

Entry to both The Intelligence Factory and the The Art of Data: Making Sense of the World exhibition is included with admission.

Standard admission tickets to Bletchley Park act as an Annual Pass giving unlimited free returns within 12 months. Under 12s go free. Full details are on the Bletchley Park website.

You can book a visit to The Intelligence Factory here.