Bletchley Park Museums Split By ‘Berlin Wall’ As Row Escalates

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New fences are another sign of disunity at Bletchley Park, which houses the National Museum of Computing and its collection of vintage computers

The Bletchley Park Trust has erected six-foot-high fences which divide the historic site of Alan Turing‘s World War II code breaking work in two, thanks to a row between the two museums which share the site. The Trust’s Lottery-funded visitor’s centre is now cut off from the adjoining National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), where a working rebuild of the pioneering Colossus computer is in progress.

The fences have been described as a “Berlin wall”, and represent a complete breakdown of relations between the two bodies, according to a Monday report in The Guardian.

colossus

‘Fragmentation’

The fences, erected as part of an ongoing refurbishment that also includes new lawns and a new visitor centre, were paid for by an £8m lottery grant awarded to the Trust in 2011, intended to ensure the preservation of the site, including the refurbishment of the makeshift huts erected during the war to house the government’s codebreaking efforts.

The fences were erected to improve pedestrian safety, according to the Trust, while TNMOC pointed out that the fences oblige visitors to walk twice as far to reach the museum.

TNMOC, officially a tenant of the Trust, began as a collection of vintage computers known as Retrobeep, and houses a collection of antique computers including its showpiece, a working rebuild of Colossus (pictured), the world’s first semi-programmable electronic computer, which played a key part in the wartime codebreakers’ efforts. TNMOC occupies a hut known as Block H, where the first Colossus computers were built during the war.

There is, in other words, little official integration between the Trust, which manages the site as a whole, and TNMOC. The result, according to TNMOC, has been a “fragmentation” that has become increasingly evident since the lottery grant was awarded.

In spite of its being marginalised in some ways, some consider TNMOC to be the true heart of Bletchley, with Stephen Fry calling it “Mecca for geeks”.

Stalled negotiations

In January the museum criticised the Trust for excluding it from the standard guided tours of the site, a move which the Trust said was necessary to reduce tour times from more than 90 minutes to one hour – but which means visitors taking the tour don’t see the rebuilt Colossus. TNMOC is not included in the £15 entry price to Bletchley Park, meaning visitors must pay another £2 to £5 to respectively see Colossus or visit the entirety of TNMOC.

Negotiations to create better links between the two organisations, such as a unified ticket price, have faltered over issues including the ownership of the rebuilt Colossus, according to The Guardian.

Nevertheless, Dr. Sue Black, a computer scientist who was central to securing the lottery funding, told the paper she believes there will ultimately be a “happy outcome” to the situation.

“At the highest level, they both want the same thing,” she said.

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