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Bletchley Park

Photo by Neil Thompson

Bletchley Park is an English country house and estate in Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire) that became the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War. The mansion was constructed during the years following 1883 for the financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon in the Victorian Gothic, Tudor, and Dutch Baroque styles, on the site of older buildings of the same name.

During World War II, the estate housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), which regularly penetrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. Some of the more notable codebreakers included Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander, Bill Tutte, Joan Clarke, and Stuart Milner-Barry. The nature of the work there was secret until many years after the war.

According to the official historian of British Intelligence, the "Ultra" intelligence produced at Bletchley shortened the war by two to four years, and without it the outcome of the war would have been uncertain. The team at Bletchley Park devised automatic machinery to help with decryption, culminating in the development of Colossus, the world's first programmable digital electronic computer. At its peak, nearly 10,000 personnel were working at Bletchley and its outstations. About three-quarters of them were women. Codebreaking operations at Bletchley Park came to an end in 1946 and all information about the wartime operations was classified until the mid-1970s.

Bletchley Park is open to the public and houses interpretive exhibits and rebuilt huts as they would have appeared during their wartime operations. The separate National Museum of Computing, which includes a working replica Bombe machine and a rebuilt Colossus computer, is housed in Block H on the site.

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