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Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future 99

Posted by timothy
from the all-things-to-all-people dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Tensions are high at Bletchley Park between the new management who want a 21st century installment and the volunteers who want to show the whole story (and get dismissed for doing so). This report [Note: video, with sound] is from the BBC: 'The groundbreaking intelligence work carried out at Bletchley Park during the second world war was credited with bringing forward the end of the conflict. In 2011 the site was awarded a £4.6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). But Bletchley is currently in the throes of a bitter dispute, between owners who want to create a brand new visitors centre, and volunteers who have been working on the site for years.'"
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Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future

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  • History is historic (Score:5, Informative)

    by gweihir (88907) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:26AM (#46072485)

    Do not modernize it. What I hear is greed and desire for attention from the new owners. Nothing even remotely appropriate for the site.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How quickly we forget.

      As recently as 2008, Bletchley Park was on the edge of financial ruin. The thing that saved it was the new management, who increased visitor numbers and therefore revenue. Had they not done that, this most historic site would be blocks of flats now.

      The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it. If you've actually been to Bletchley Park recently, you'll know that you simply can't run it the way it was being run AND accommodate 2-3 tim

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How quickly we forget.

        As recently as 2008, Bletchley Park was on the edge of financial ruin. The thing that saved it was the new management, who increased visitor numbers and therefore revenue. Had they not done that, this most historic site would be blocks of flats now.

        The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it. If you've actually been to Bletchley Park recently, you'll know that you simply can't run it the way it was being run AND accommodate 2-3 times as many visitors. The tours had to be streamlined, and the collections rationalised. You really think most people go to Bletchley Park to see a model railway and a collection of Winston Churchill tea towels?

        There's much more to this story than the BBC report suggests. The fact that the BBC has removed it from their web site after less than 24 hours should be your first clue that all is not as it seems.

        This is pure rubbish, reg the blocks of flats.
        That issue was in the 90s and BP was then saved... Yes *surprise* by the hard work of volunteers!

        And yes... There is more to the BBC story... Tony isn't the first or last who got sacked. The truth will come out eventually.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it.

        Not true. The majority of decision-makers at Bletchley Park now present came in after the lottery funding was secured.

        You really think most people go to Bletchley Park to see a model railway and a collection of Winston Churchill tea towels?

        Actually, yes. The model railway was very popular with families as a day at Bletchley Park can be tough on younger children. Churchill collection was much more than tea towels.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @01:25PM (#46073629)

        Absolute nonsense.

        How quickly we forget.

        As recently as 2008, Bletchley Park was on the edge of financial ruin. The thing that saved it was the new management, who increased visitor numbers and therefore revenue. Had they not done that, this most historic site would be blocks of flats now.

        The "new" management, in the shape of new CEO Iain Standen, arrived in 2012. Since then the relationship between BPT and other stakeholders and volunteers on the park has been going downhill rapidly. His predecessor, Simon Greenish, whilst not perfect, at least seemed to understand the importance of volunteers and the many varied and interesting private collections on the park.

        The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it. If you've actually been to Bletchley Park recently, you'll know that you simply can't run it the way it was being run AND accommodate 2-3 times as many visitors.

        Except there aren't 2-3 times as many visitors, and it's hard to see why there ever will be when the things visitors came to see are being shut down one by one. The real people who saved the park back in the 90s are exactly those volunteers and private collections that are now being systemically removed.

        The tours had to be streamlined, and the collections rationalised. You really think most people go to Bletchley Park to see a model railway and a collection of Winston Churchill tea towels?

        The main tour was shortened from 90 mins to 60 mins because it was felt to be too much for elderly visitors. That was a decision that volunteers were involved in, on the understanding that there would be further tour options to take in e.g. Colossus at TNMOC. However, that has not happened and visitors are now left to find their own way to TNMOC, which is no longer allowed to sell tickets in Block B and is not promoted by BPT at all. The BPT tour guide who was "sacked" whilst the BBC were there filming (and that was NOT planned btw) was dismissed because he had the temerity to take some visitors over to TNMOC to see Colossus. That is how ridiculous the situation has become.

        And yes, absolutely, the varied collections provided something for the whole family. The park HAS to remain a family attraction to survive long term. A narrow focus on WW2 codebreaking could be a little dry for most, especially children, and I somehow doubt there are enough hardcore "geek" visitors to keep the doors open.

      • You paint it as black and white. The new managers may have saved it, that doesn't mean that all their actions are good.

        I'd say the large issue is why did the country allow a historic site to be threatened. It's not like maintaining a historic site is ruinously expensive. The state should say "Eh, chaps, this is going to be funded with taxpayer money. Marmelade. Here's a cheque for the property, here's a cheque for maintenence. Tea time and crumpets" and that could be that. Why does history need to
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'd say the large issue is why did the country allow a historic site to be threatened. It's not like maintaining a historic site is ruinously expensive. The state should say "Eh, chaps, this is going to be funded with taxpayer money.

          Bletchley Park (Station X) was a well kept secret until the late 1970s
          All but 2 of the Colossus' were dismantled and their very existence was not officially recognised until even later.

          This is why the site was under threat, its historical significance was simply not understood.

          • by Lumpy (12016)

            Most people are walking morons, they will NEVER understand it's historical significance. The company in charge of it now could give a rats ass about historical significance.. They care about profits.

    • by plopez (54068)

      +3

    • What I hear is greed and desire for attention from the new owners.

      Greed = Make enough money to keep the place running and pay the salaries of the people saying that money is not important.
      Desire for Attention = Attract visitors, and educate people about what happened there.

      • Greed = Make enough money to keep the place running and pay the salaries of the people saying that money is not important.
        Desire for Attention = Attract visitors, and educate people about what happened there.

        Pretty much. If they can't get endowments from rich people, the money has to come from somewhere. Just maintaining buildings of that vintage is a spendy proposition, where does the cash come from?

        Sure, turning it into a "tourist trap" is short-sighted, but they have to develop a realistic plan to generate money for operating expenses.

        By the way, I wonder if it's possible to have a letter post-marked from their "secret" post office...

      • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @02:18PM (#46074081)

        Nonsense. You cannot run museums in a way that is profitable. Capitalism cannot fix everything, but can destroy a lot if misapplied.

    • by expatriot (903070) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @03:14PM (#46074435)

      I went there with two other nerds and we spend hours looking at the engines, parts, huts, and the computer museum also on the site. I liked the simple nature of the displays (technically complex of course, but simply presented). Something had to be done for the huts of course because wood.

      I went again with my wife later (English teacher) and she was very impatient. "Why are you spending 15 minutes looking at a electronic part?" (custom rotor for the bombe.

      You have to have the place be self sustaining and provide something for everyone.

      Tricky balance.

      • by westlake (615356) on Monday January 27, 2014 @12:44AM (#46077859)

        You have to have the place be self sustaining and provide something for everyone.

        The very brief BBC broadcast on the 6 Oâ(TM)Clock News on the 24th January created an impression of disharmony within Bletchley Park.

        The piece drew attention to three very different and separate issues;

        The alleged treatment of volunteer guides
        Private Collections being asked to leave the site
        The access arrangements to The National Museum of Computing

        In order to manage increasing numbers of visitors, and to make it more accessible and family friendly, the guided tour was reduced from 90 minutes plus to an hour. This revised tour was developed and implemented by a working group of staff and volunteers, and the great majority of our volunteers have embraced and supported the revised tours for nearly a year. Sadly, there was one exception where a tour guide who was unwilling to conduct tours in the agreed format has been asked to stand down from this role.

        Some of the non-core private collections which have in recent years operated from the Bletchley Park site have been asked to relocate, as the parts of the site they occupy are to be restored to their wartime appearance and made available to help tell the remarkable story of WW2 Codebreaking. These buildings of high historic value, are artefacts in their own right and deserve to be interpreted accordingly, to reflect their importance and the profound impact of the work that took place inside them.

        The National Museum of Computing was formed in 2006 and is run by a separate charitable trust. It willingly entered into a lease agreement with the Bletchley Park Trust to rent Block H on the Bletchley Park site to house its museum. This museum remains on-site and accessible, by way of a separate admission charge, to anyone visiting Bletchley Park. It is the Bletchley Park Trust's policy to have a solid working relationship with The National Museum of Computing and we intend that its exhibition should be enjoyed by visitors to Bletchley Park>p>Bletchley Park. The site is in the middle of a major, and much needed, £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. This will create a world class museum and heritage site which is a fitting memorial to the heroic codebreakers of Bletchley Park making the site much more sustainable and accessible to growing numbers of visitors.

        Progress in Perspective [bletchleypark.org.uk]

        • by expatriot (903070)

          While I think it takes some commercial thinking, the trust has gone too far. It does not look like a reasonable comprimise is likely:

          Tony Carroll, an elderly volunteer at Bletchley Park was fired after daring to show a tour group round the National Museum of Computing, which is based in the famous Block H which housed six Colossus computers during World War II. ...
          Carroll said: "They are ruining this place. We are all very upset about not being able to tell the story we want to."

          The Trust is planning for a

  • by jimmydevice (699057) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:36AM (#46072527)

    Another example of the fucking suits disneyfying and monetizing a thing that is perfect as is.

    fuck fuck fuck!

  • Loss of memorabilia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by martin (1336) <maxsec&gmail,com> on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:37AM (#46072543) Journal

    Oh that explains why all the memorabilia has gone since we visited 5 years ago and last year.

    Very sad that this of the park has gone, it really helps the younger ones to see things in context with the work that went on there, seeing real life artifacts such as toys and the scenes from the time.

    Also explains why we cant buy 1 ticket at the entrance for both the Park and the Computing museum with Colossus etc inside it.

    Again all very sad that they cant get this joined up to work together, moss other places are putting on living history stuff and BP is pulling it all out.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I had the chance to visit the park a while ago, along with the computer science museum right next to it and I have to say that I have fond memories of it. It's really interesting and tours are hosted by really passionate people. It's not hip and modern but it goes in depth with every aspect of the life there during the war. They should totally ask for fan support, we should do something to preserve it and help the volunteers make it better without taking it away from the people who always did their best to

  • by jcrb (187104) <jcrb@NOspAM.yahoo.com> on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:50AM (#46072627) Homepage

    One of my most favorite museums in the world used to be the Science Museum in London, then I visited it and discovered the steam engine in the entrance doesn't run, the ship model gallery has been sent to storage never to be seen again to be replaced with a gift shop, I couldn't find the working Babbage engine section, in fact basically every display I wanted to see was gone and replaced by junk.

    These so called "modernized" displays are nothing better than what you could read online, I want to go to a museum to see *actual* history, not to see a cartoon representation of a simplified version of history that assumes I am a moron.

    I think the curators of science/technology museums need to view themselves in the same way as curators of art museums do, their purpose is to display the "art" not to tell me about the art with pretty cartoons after they ship the art to the storage warehouse.

    • by umafuckit (2980809) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:08AM (#46072763)

      One of my most favorite museums in the world used to be the Science Museum in London, then I visited it and discovered the steam engine in the entrance doesn't run, the ship model gallery has been sent to storage never to be seen again to be replaced with a gift shop, I couldn't find the working Babbage engine section, in fact basically every display I wanted to see was gone and replaced by junk.

      These so called "modernized" displays are nothing better than what you could read online, I want to go to a museum to see *actual* history, not to see a cartoon representation of a simplified version of history that assumes I am a moron.

      I get where you're coming from, but don't you think you're being a little harsh? The Babbage difference engine and the steam engine are both there, as I recall. They may not be working, but they're present. Possibly the museum can't afford the maintenance if the exhibit is in motion. That doesn't mean the science isn't on display, though. I know this is why H4 isn't running at the Greenwhich observatory: it would wear out fairly soon if it was allowed to keep running.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:22AM (#46072847)

      Similar experience with the Birmingham Science Museum, in my youth it had seemingly acres of operational industrial machinery, mercury arc rectifiers, van-de-graff generators, an operational beam engine, a steam train and Fresnel lighthouse lens (presumably not native to Brum) and countless other such well oiled triumphs of human ingenuity,

      They closed it in '97 and replaced it some years later with the shockingly poor substitute that is Think Tank / Millennium point. Basically they scrapped 3/4th of the exhibits, replaced them with much easier and cheaper to curate "social history" (this is still allegedly a science museum) and started charging a small fortune to get in. It really upsets me that the closest my own children will ever get to the sights, sounds and delicious machine oil smells of our true industrial history is the occasional steam rally.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think it's akin to the aim of making sure every child wins at school. The aim is noble - that nobody is made to feel bad about themselves - but misses the point of struggle and achievement. You can't have a sense of achievement if there's no struggle. You can't win, if you can't lose.

      Here the same thing happens - the exhibit must be accessible to all. Everyone can understand it, and there's no struggle, no stretching of the imagination, and thus no inspiration from it. That's the real shame of these chang

    • by Hieronymus Howard (215725) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:16PM (#46073133)

      The steam engine at the entrance of the Science Museum does run, but not all of the time. I go to the Science Museum frequently, as I have a 5 year old who love it. I've certainly seen the engine running several times recently.

    • by hughbar (579555) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:45PM (#46073359) Homepage
      So agree. Used to take my son there in the late 1980s, when everything was pretty similar to my childhood. Basically, wonderfully engineered things with handles and buttons. I went recently with my nephews and much of this is gone, gradually replaced by superficial, patronising displays.
    • by xaxa (988988) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @01:07PM (#46073521)

      Last time I visited the Science Museum there were steam engines running. That was less than a year ago, but I don't think they run every day -- perhaps only at weekends.

      The shipping gallery is available online: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.u... [sciencemuseum.org.uk] -- I don't know what is now in that location (or if it's ready yet). It's certainly not a gift shop, as that's on a different floor.

      The Babbage difference engine model is in the Computing section, on the 2nd floor: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.u... [sciencemuseum.org.uk]

      Perhaps you should have asked for a map?

      (The museum is free, funded from tax and donations. The Deparment for Culture, Media and Sport is facing big cuts from the current government, and all the tax-funded museums are being told to cut costs as much as they can, and generate as much income as they can. I don't like this, but there's not much I can do about it.)

      • The Babbage difference engine model is in the Computing section, on the 2nd floor

        Definitely still there when I visited in early December last year - loads of Babbage stuff, in fact. Including his brain in a jar!

        (The museum did feel kind of tired and empty compared with how I remembered it, sadly - and the Wellcome collection stuff didn't seem nearly as grisly as I thought it was as a ten-year-old. They've got some fancy new galleries at one end, but it's more of the raising-questions public-oriented kind of

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Since University in 1992 I have been going to the science museum 4-5 times a year..

      In that time they have closed;

      1) food technology ( boarded off and not re-opened )
      2) Nuclear Power and power generation ( replaced with a large empty space for coffee )
      3) Gas and Unitities ( replaced with a wishy washy temp display )
      4) Slimmed down farming to a shell
      5) slimmed down half the Space gallery ( the right hand side gallery and above )
      6) got rid of retail and shops ( boarded off and scheduled to re-open in 2005 :0)

      • by jcrb (187104)

        Since University in 1992 I have been going to the science museum 4-5 times a year..

        In that time they have closed;

        ......

        let me say no more... Dumbing down or poor curation ?

        Yes?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The original story was here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25886961 It has since been removed without any explanation given.

    Knowing a lot of the story behind... I consider this an assault on free-speech.

    Also, for those who are interested, might give an explanation on why the BBC chickened out: www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/about/bptrust.rhtm

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Before we emigrated, I gave a volunteer from Bletchley quite a large amount of older computers and software which were supposedly of interest. This included documentation for one of the world's first tablet computers [hembrow.eu] and other prototype hardware and software. Sadly, I think it all vanished soon after I donated it. I should have kept all that stuff myself...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ditto, I thought I was the only one. In my case it was only a couple of rare(ish) operational machines(20 left)+software+spares, but I've never seen them listed anywhere since.
      (Machine types left undescribed as , as I'm not wanting an easy identification here, look at the wonks in the picture lurking at www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/about/bptrust.rhtm pointed to above, I want to have a job in future..)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:28AM (#46072887)

    The historical site is owned by a charity, whose trustees are unpaid, and will be making nothing from the changes. The grant and associated fundraising were for a specific modernisation plan that's been available to interested parties for years: the trustees wouldn't be allowed to do anything substantially different with the money. The computer museum is run by a different charity, which rents space from the historical charity: lost donations have nothing to do with the Bletchley charity.

  • by plopez (54068) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:22PM (#46073159) Journal

    That it seems to be the case. Those that want it to stay as authentic as possible, I am in that camp, as opposed to those who want to install things like the"U-Boat Water Ride". Yes it is a dump. It was a dump in WWII and so should stay that way.

  • by Rambo Tribble (1273454) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:22PM (#46073165)
    Send it to Arizona, so it can be with the London Bridge.
  • by BestNicksRTaken (582194) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:29PM (#46073221)

    Please don't make it like Stonehenge where you can't even get to it without going through the giftshop, and then you can't actually get anywhere near it.

    I expect they'll Disney-fy it and rename it Bletchley Theme Park, jees do the Nation Trust just play Angry Birds all day?

    • by Xest (935314)

      I remember being able to just walk upto the place and jump around on the stones at Stonehenge as a kid, and okay, maybe that was a bit wrong given it's significance but this seizure and commercialisation of history and culture by people that simply have no right of ownership of it is sickening.

      I'm pretty sure the folks who built Stonehenge would be a bit fucked off to hear about the commercialisation of it, I'm pretty sure they didn't build it so a select few people could profit off of it in the future.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Museums may have life cycles of their own, and this type of conflict may be part of it.

    The Boston Computer Museum shipped off all it's cool historical artifacts to become a kids educational playhouse.

    Then the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley updated its exhibits to make them more accessible and aesthetically pleasing to the general public, perhaps driving away several of its earliest volunteers in the process, especially the ones who loved the historical artifacts more than the vetted "show".

    Hopefu

  • Am presently solely a U.S. national ( though that will change ) , so it's not my affair to mind what the Brits do with their Historical Landmarks. Still, as Democracy traveled from Greece to Rome to England before emigrating to the USA..,I've always been fascinated by English History. It's a shame, even deplorable, the Govt. of the U.K. is so diffident to it's own History they'd not protect such an important Historical landmark allowing it to instead fall into private ownership. Being a detective, the 1st
  • Newsify (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @02:12PM (#46074041)

    I love the way the beeb report (and so many of my esteemed fellow slashdotters) want to simplify the sitution down to idiot level, and draw highly emotional conclusions from it. Soundbite Society.

    The situation at Bletchley is horrifically complex, as several other posters have alluded to. The site itself is owned by one party, operated by another, who sub-let part of it to another (the museum of computing). There are also contracts with companies Science and Innovation, who are responsible for letting unused areas to companies as office space or production rooms: this is an important source of revenue for the park itself, and requires some of the site to be modernised to allow better access, power supply, security etc etc. This has generally been done in a sensitive way, keeping a lot of the modernisation hidden from the general public.

    Every decision at bletchley involves a number of differing or opposing parties with equal or close weighting. PositIve decision making is almost impossible, and getting stuff done has involved winning favours, political negotiation and luck. All the while the place falls down around everyones ears. The new management seem to be in a position to be a 'new broom' sweeping aside a lot of the nonsense: there are parties at BP that would watch it fall into ruin as they stubbornly insist on changing nothing. Equally the lottery plan is aggressive, and does indeed take away some of the fantastic bits of bletchley: the tour guides are an exceptional feature, and replacing them with the electronic tours is a real loss. However, the place needs money to stay open, to be self sustaining. The best way to achieve that is to become more 'family friendly'. It's a great experience for grown ups, but a horrific ordeal for anyone under the age of 16: some of it is just too stuffy. I wish they had been able to find some way of keeping the Model railway, and the Churchill Exhibit - I think they could both have been accomodated in outlying buildings. The Churchill Exhibit drew a surprising number of people (despite being a little dry) and really isn't so far removed from the core WWII message. Justifying the railway is somewhat harder. Creating more accessible exhibits is key to a younger audience, though, as is modernising some of the buildings. Generally the refurb seems inline with previous works, which were done intelligently and sensitively. The visitors centre is the 'all new store front' that the place deserately needs: having to be shown where the front door is by a man in a high vis is just ridiculous.

    As always, it's a case of getting the balance right: the old-guard resist change and the new broom wants to change too much. Hopefully the result of the battle falls somewhere in the midground - I don't think too much needs to be trimmed away to bring things up to date. Let's hope the new vision/message isn't overly simplified.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @03:03PM (#46074351) Homepage

    I visited Bletchley Park in 2002, when it was an all-volunteer operation with limited funding. It was great seeing the bombe rebuild, the unfinished Colossus rebuild, a Lorenz crypto machine, and a working Enigma. But I knew about all those machines and what Bletchley Park had done. For people who hadn't done the reading, it wasn't much of an experience. The guide was more into the architecture of the manor house than the crypto anyway. There were maybe 20 visitors on the grounds when I was there.

    The Science Museum in London has been dumbed down. I saw it in 1985 and 2002. The big thing in 2002 was the Aston-Martin from an early James Bond movie. Some of the railroad equipment had been moved out. But they still had Maudsley's lathe, which looks amazingly like a modern lathe, but complely different than any lathe before it.

  • They have a contact page available at http://www.bletchleypark.org.u... [bletchleypark.org.uk] - tell them what you think yourself
  • I visited part of Bletchley Park in the late 2000s and it was a ruin. The guard at the gate house said they are very much in need of money. The buildings were falling down.

    Sure, it is a site of historical importance, but even the Enigma-cracking computers like the esteemed Alan Turing's bombe were dismantled and scrapped decades ago, and the hundreds of subsequent generations which won the war of the Atlantic are all over the world in both their original form, as replicas, and as computer emulations.

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