Visitors to UK World War II Codebreaking site Bletchley Park no longer get to see Colossus, the computer created to crack the codes and previously the highlight of a visit. This development reveals that relations between the Bletchley Park Trust and its tenant, the National Museum of Computing, have reached an all-time low.
While Bletchley Park was awarded a £4.6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011, subsequently augmented so that has now embarked on an £8 million restoration project for the establishment of a visitor centre dedicated to the World War II Codebreakers.
TNMOC - The National Museum of Computing - has had no share in these funds. Instead the museum, housed in Block H in the grounds of Bletchley Park, which is where Colossus was originally built and was operated during the war, pays rent and utilities amounting to more than £100,000 per year.
Through its own fundraising efforts and the help of dedicated volunteers TNMOC recently opened its new Colossus Gallery where visitors can walk all around the rebuilt Colossus and discover its history and that of its creator Tommy Flowers. Along with the Tunny Gallery it cover the the entire World War II code-breaking process of the Lorenz-encrypted messages.
Although the Tunny machines, which decrypted enciphered teleprinter communications of the German High Command, were all dismantled and recycled after the war, TNMOC volunteers have rebuilt a fully operational one based on fragmentary evidence consisting of a few photographs, partial circuit diagrams and the memories of a few original Tunny operators.
Given that Colossus and Tunny are such an important part of the Codebreaking history it probably comes as a surprise to visitors to Bletchley Park that they are not part of its collection. However, until recently the guided "outdoor tour" of Bletchely Park included the opportunity to view them - but now that is explicitly ruled out.
Not only do unsightly fences and barriers separate off the historic Block H, Tony Carroll, a volunteer who persisted in including the Colossus and Tunny Galleries in his guided tour, was dismissed by the Bletchley Park management - an event recorded by the BBC, broadcast on TV and radio and now available on YouTube:
In the video Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust is unapologetic about the termination saying that:
"If we are going to go forward, we have to keep moving forward with the vision we are trying to deliver, which is a high quality heritage attraction."
A statement issued by the Bletchey Park Trust, with the headline Crossed Wires at Bletchley Park reiterates the unrepentant message:
The Bletchley Park Trust is currently in the middle of a major, and very exciting, £8 million Heritage Lottery Funded Restoration project to bring the many historic buildings on the site back to a state of good repair and create an inspiring experience for its ever-increasing numbers of visitors.
In their statement "Deciphering dissent at Bletchley Park" issued by the TNMOC trustees express regret and frustration:
TNMOC is very much opposed to the fragmentation of Bletchley Park currently being undertaken by the Bletchley Park Trust. One facet of this fragmentation is the removal of TNMOC's Colossus and Tunny Galleries from Bletchley Park Trust tours and the isolation of historic Block H. TNMOC trustees are disappointed that the 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.
Negotiations with the Bletchley Park Trust to achieve a fair and equitable financial arrangement to give all Bletchley Park fee-paying visitors access to Colossus and Tunny have proved exceedingly difficult. 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.
John Pettifer, a longtime supporter of Bletchley Park posted on a thread Tensions at BP on the Bletchley Park mailing list:
It seems incredibly sad that the two parties are unable to settle on an arrangement that includes the Colossus rebuild as an integral part of the visitor experience at BP. When I was a volunteer guide (1999-2004) tours nearly always culminated in a viewing of Tony Sale's rebuild in progress, which in many cases was seen as the highlight.
It is surely an irony, which has been noted in many comments, that the current Bletchley Park management seems to exercise a control that the wartime occupants of Bletchley Park probably thought they were working and fighting to eradicate.
As well as being home to the men and women whose intelligence and effort helped to shorten the course of World War II, Bletchley Park also saw developments in computer science and computer technology that propelled us into the computer age in the twentieth century and it is shameful that this aspect of its heritage is currently being deprecated.
TNMOC was recently given a generous donation of £1 Million to help its restoration fund on a matched funding basis - which means it needs to raise an equivalent sum of money to access these funds. Visit the TNMOC site to see highlights of its collection and donate to its fund.
Your computer heritage needs YOU.
As alluded to earlier, tension between Bletchley Park and TNMOC isn't new. If you want more details of the relationship between these two charitablee organisations. that seem to the outsider to be inextricably linked, Gareth Halfacree has produced a detailed account, Disharmony At Bletchley Park.