The estate of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire is famous as the place where wartime codebreakers cracked the German Enigma code. They provided information that helped the Allies win the Second World War. Often working in makeshift buildings erected in the grounds of a Victorian mansion, the codebreakers were assisted by advances in computer technology heralding the Information Age. Sworn to secrecy, those who worked at Bletchley Park did not reveal the significance of their wartime contribution until the 1970s. Since then, their achievement has been rightly celebrated the world over.
In September 2003 the team of Architectural Investigators in the Cambridge Office of English Heritage was asked to coordinate a programme of investigation, relating documentary research to the surviving buildings and landscape at Bletchley Park. Fortunately, most of the wartime buildings and landscape survive intact, despite some intervention by post-war occupants of the site.
Wooden Huts and Concrete Blocks
Combining different strands of evidence, it was possible to discover where the various wartime departments (and, in some cases, prominent individuals) had worked. It was also clear that, far from being standardised, most of the wartime buildings were carefully sited and planned to facilitate liaison between particular sections. The succession of buildings, from the wooden huts of 1939-40 to the concrete blocks of the mid-1940s, relate their own narrative. They tell the story of wartime construction, dominated by the struggle to obtain materials and labour, and the need to resolve conflicting priorities within the wartime organisation.
A Country Estate
Bletchley Park also has much to tell us about the development of small country estates in the 18th and 19th centuries. Landscape survey by English Heritage archaeologists located the site of the Palladian mansion built by the antiquarian Browne Willis in 1711, and examination of the Victorian mansion revealed that much of the building was erected by the speculative developer Samuel Lipscombe Seckham around 1880. Soon afterwards it was enlarged and aggrandised by the Jewish financier and MP, Sir Herbert Samuel Leon.
English Heritage's investigation of Bletchley Park resulted in the publication of a report ('Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire', Research Department, Buildings and Landscapes Reports and Papers: B/010/2004). This will continue to provide a platform for decisions affecting the conservation and regeneration of the site for years to come. For a long time the site suffered from a lack of agreement amongst stakeholders concerning sustainable development proposals, largely because its historic significance was poorly understood. Greater understanding makes it easier to articulate the value of Bletchley Park, and to make informed judgements about its future.
You can download the PDF of an article about the Mansion's history, made available by the Ancient Monuments Society.