Turing papers saved for Bletchley Park


You may have read my two posts last November about the Turing papers: Bletchley Park needs you! and Turing, Christies and Steve Wozniak. A great chap called Gareth Halfacree started a campaign to buy the Turing papers for Bletchley Park. He set up a JustGiving page and after a short time had received around £20k in donations from the general public: the guide price for the papers was £300k-£500k…..

[Listen to me talking to Aleks Krotoski about the acquisition of the Turing papers on The Guardian #techweekly podcast. Many thanks to Mark Cotton for producing this cut down version]

[I was also interviewed by the wonderful Jamillah Knowles for BBC Outriders as part of the Girl Tech podcast]

…..Seeing the public support for the purchase of the papers I thought I’d have a go at trying to increase the amount of money available to Bletchley Park for the purchase. I approached Megan Smith VP of Google at an event at NESTA asking her if she could help Bletchley Park to purchase the papers. Megan and Simon Meacham (see previous post) worked over the next weekend to secure $100k from Google for Bletchley Park to buy the papers. 

Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to buy the papers, but they didn’t meet the reserve price at auction and Simon Greenish, Bletchley Park Director managed to bring in the rest of the funding from a private donor and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The papers arrived at Bletchley Park last Friday and are now there being restored and made ready for display sometime in the Spring.

I went up to Bletchley with Peter Barron from Google on Friday to finally get a glimpse of the papers and to meet the other people who had played a role in making sure that they ended up at Bletchley Park. One of the great moments of the day was meeting Gareth who set up the JustGiving page. Throughout the excitement of the auction and the build up to the auction we had been in touch regularly, and I had been disappointed not to meet Gareth at the auction, but he had been working that day. So it was great to finally meet up and reminisce about the excitement we had felt. 

I also got to meet Julian Wilson who looked after the papers at Christies and Iain Stewart MP who asked a question about the papers as part of Prime Minister’s Questions a few weeks ago. Along with Peter Barron from Google we all had a chat about the part that we had individually played in ensuring that the Turing papers ended up at Bletchley Park. Gareth had started the whole thing off and set up the JustGiving site, I brought in the $100k from Google, Julian had emailed the Pink Paper with the story and Iain had asked the question in Parliament. As we went around telling our stories I remarked on something that I found very interesting: each of us said something similar to this “I didn’t know what the chances were of being successful, but I just thought “Sod it” and decided to give it a go”. Now isn’t that interesting? Why is it that that we had all done that? I have to say that during my three years of campaigning to save Bletchley Park I’ve thought just that many times πŸ˜‰

I first heard the Director of Bletchley Park – Simon Greenish say in June 2008 that Bletchley Park would have to shut if no funds were forthcoming. Since then, all the way through three years of campaigning to the present day, I’ve not really known what I was doing, but have been passionate and committed and hoped for the best. I’ve often thought “Let me try XYZ and see if it works” sometime it has (getting Stephen Fry involved πŸ™‚) , and sometimes it hasn’t.

I think that the point I’m trying to make is that: some things work in life, and some don’t. You don’t usually know in advance which ones will work and which won’t. But if you don’t give things a go….well nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Other highlights of the day included meeting Professor William Newman, codebreaker Max Newman‘s son, and hearing his stories about Alan Turing, Max Newman’s good friend. One of these was that Alan Turing ran the ten miles or so to their house one morning and on finding no one in wrote a message for for them using a leaf and a twig and put it through the door :)) Another was having a *very* interesting conversation with Peter Barron and Simon Greenish, which I shall report on in a future post and finding out from Julian Wilson that Enigma machines run on four AA batteries!! πŸ™‚ Hehehehe, that really made me laugh.

Another thing that Julian said was really interesting: he thinks that the massive amount of support on Twitter last November just before the auction really made a difference to what happened in the auction room. Christies were expecting bids well over £300k for the Turing papers, but the bidding stopped under £300k and the papers did not meet the reserve. He thinks that several of the people that were going to bid for the papers held back because they didn’t want to take the papers away from Bletchley Park. Another great result for Twitter :))

The Turing papers looked cool all laid out on a large table, I took a few pics which I share with you above.

Acquiring the Turing papers for Bletchley Park was a great example of many people and communities of people working away to achieve a common aim. I can’t wait to see them later this year when they are on display.





  1. After reading this I remembered something that the screenwriter John August wrote recently: "It???s too easy to file things away as ???success??? or ???failure.??? Almost every creative work is a mix of both."I think this is what has been so exciting about seeing your ‘let’s try xyz’ process in action. Each attempt to raise awareness about Bletchley Park creates a story and while it would have been nice for a huge corporation to lean in and solve the problem of securing the Turing papers I think watching you and the others who contributed to their rescue kept everything on a much more human and inspirational level.Bletchley Park *will* eventually raise all the money needed to secure its complete restoration and continue, as all good museums do, to retell the stories of the past to educate the present and the future.And so the story continues…

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