‘War’ at Bletchley Park over tale of two sites

mpmc Bletchley Park
mpmc Bletchley Park

They have been dubbed ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ and the ‘Iron Curtain’ by critics.

But this week Bletchley Park Trust bosses insisted new gates and fences built around the heritage aspect of the codebreaking site are for the good of visitors.

Chief executive Iain Standen said they will provide a divide between the restored site and ‘21st century intrusions,’ such as car parks.

The Trust believes the pedestrianisation of the heritage site will increase safety for the elderly and young children.

But the move – part of an £8million restoration project funded by a Government grant – is proving unpopular with supporters of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC).

This second museum is home to Colossus, the world’s first electronic digital computer which was developed to crack the German Lorenz cipher during the second world war.

Although based on the grounds of Bletchley Park, it is an entirely separate museum born of a split among Bletchley Park volunteers in the early 2000s and based in the park’s Block H.

The Trust of this museum believe the new fences are part of a plan to isolate exhibitions and buildings that do not fall under the direct control of the Bletchley Park Trust.

They point to the decision to remove a collection of Winston Churchill memorabilia from Bletchley Park last year as another aspect of this policy.

A statement from TNMOC said the Trust is ‘very much opposed’ to the fragmentation of Bletchley Park.

They insist that the erection of the gates will result in ‘the removal of TNMOC’s Colossus and Tunny Galleries from Bletchley Park Trust tours’ – something Mr Standen vigorously denies.

The TNMOC statement said: “TNMOC trustees are disappointed that Colossus Rebuild is not to be interpreted to the public as an integral part of the Bletchley Park story as envisaged in the Bletchley Park Trust’s successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid.”

It added: “The Bletchley Park Trust’s current action to erect gates and barriers between its own display area and Block H will almost certainly prove divisive.”

But Mr Standen said people would still be able to visit TNMOC as normal and that the gates would not restrict access to that museum in any way.

In a statement of its own, the Bletchley Park Trust said the fences would ensure ‘the security and protection’ of the park, allowing it be free of 21st Century intrusions.

Part of the disagreement between the two museums comes down to a failure to be able to agree the terms of a possible joint ticketing venture.

Those at TNMOC have called talks between the two charities, ‘exceedingly difficult’.

Chairman Tim Reynolds and fellow Trust members believe this failure is now resulting in a decline in the number of visitors coming to Block H.

Mr Standen is equally bullish, insisting that a very fair offer was made to TNMOC in 2012.

He said Bletchley Park’s single ticketing solution revolved around adding £2 for adults and £1 for children to the park’s usual fees. This extra charge would then have been paid to TNMOC.

The Bletchley Park statement said: “This offer resulted in lengthy negotiations which ultimately proved inconclusive, and both sides agreed to operate independently.”

Both museums blame each other for the failure to find a solution.

The TNMOC statement said: “Today most Bletchley Park Trust visitors miss the key experience of seeing the Colossus Rebuild and the Tunny machine in action and thereby miss out on key working exhibits representing the outstanding pinnacle of the World War II code-breaking story.”

But those at Bletchley Park see things differently.

Their statement said: “It should be made absolutely clear that The National Museum of Computing remains available to any visitor to Bletchley Park.

“The story of breaking the German’ Fish’ Ciphers, which includes the story of the birth of Colossus, is one that is told in the Bletchley Park Museum, and visitors are encouraged to visit The National Museum of Computing to see the replica Colossus and Tunny machines.”

In an argument surrounded by war-time comparisons perhaps the most suitable one is ‘stalemate’, used in the First World War to describe ‘trench-warfare’ when if either side tried to move forward they would be gunned down resulting in little or no movement at all.