Once upon a time, this house was known by various designations: Station X, London Signals Intelligence Centre, HMS Pembroke (a navy designation because there were supposedly WRENs posted there) and as a postal address it was listed as Room 47, Foreign Office, or sometimes simply B.P. Where is this place?
Located near the modern town of Milton Keynes, half way between the major recruiting centres of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and on a railway line direct to London, the house conveniently had a train station opposite its gates. For decades its history was kept secret and now Bletchley Park is a museum to the hard work of code breakers and pioneering computer engineers, like Alan Turing.
The manor house was built in 1771 and pulled down by its new owner in 1793. The estate was purchased again in 1877, this is when it started to be known as Bletchley Park. The estate was once more sold and bought by a Herbert Leon, who expanded the remaining farmhouse into what was described as a ‘maudlin and monstrous pile’ caused by combining Victorian, Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque architecture. I admit, I can’t imagine that combination sitting comfortably together.
The site was supposed to be turned into a housing estate but in 1938 (with a notable degree of foresight) Admiral Hugh Sinclair, who helped set up the forerunner of what we think of as M16, bought the house for a bargain £6000 with his own money because the government couldn’t afford it. He inspected the property undercover using the premise of Capt. Ridley’s shooting party. He obviously liked what he saw even if it was supposedly maudlin.
The prime location was put to good use and with the addition of huts in the grounds, Bletchley Park went about secretly cracking codes throughout the WWII.
I stole the idea of a rural ops centre for my book. My grandfather, who lived in Norfolk for his entire life, couldn’t fight due to medical reasons. However, he was a civilian volunteer in the Royal Observer Corp. Part of his role was to count the planes flying overhead as they crossed the East Anglian skies on the way to bombing missions. The observers started out in structures similar to garden sheds until purpose built concrete posts were constructed – they can still be seen scattered about the countryside. The ROC was also at the forefront of radar detection. For my book, I located a regional headquarters in the house – typically ROC stations were close to the coast – they were also based out at sea on ships.
The ROC was a big recruiter of women and although initially they kept them off night shifts due to their apparent ‘frailties’, later, this lowly opinion was revised and women were allowed to perform the same duties as men (for less money), as long as they didn’t work alone with a man at night.