Opened to the public in 1993, and re-opened following restoration in 2014, Bletchley Park is a tourist attraction that unravels the mysteries behind the people and machinery that cracked German codes during World War 2 and helped end the war earlier than it would have without their contribution.
It was also the birthplace of modern computing and recently appeared in the film The Imitation Game.
Bletchley through a lens
I went to Bletchley Park to get close to a really inspiring piece of history and take pictures of awesome old computers in all their tonne-weighing, valve-powered glory. There was lots of great stuff behind glass as well and recreations of period offices and rooms put you right back in war time Bletchley.
The most visually interesting computer equipment was housed in The National Museum of Computing, part of the same complex but with a separate entrance fee. It houses a reconstruction of the Colossus which helped to crack the Lorenz cipher, plus other early computers including EDSAC and the Harwell Dekatron (aka WITCH).
Taking pictures in there was more fun thanks to the greater density of old computers, glowing valves, and whirring and spinning things that made lots of satisfying clicks and hums. The physical and tactile timeline of tech reminded me of childhood, early computer experiences, and more recently The Swan’s iconic computer in LOST.
It’s been a while since my fingers ran across the keys of an Acorn or BBC computer but my personal favourite machine was the one running the original adventure game – Colossal Cave Adventure (from 1976!). Having never played a text-based game before this was ironically a new experience to me, as was neon green text on a black CRT screen – a lot easier on the eyes than I would have expected.
I ended my trip by reminding myself how rubbish I was at Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Mega Drive II and contemplating how far computers have come since the early 1990s, let alone the late 1940s.
With or without camera Bletchley Park is a full day out and should appeal to anyone with an interest in World War 2, women in STEM (there was a big focus on this in the museum), old computers, new computers, or amazing people who had a quiet but profound impact on modern life and technology that once was room-sized but now fits into our pockets.
I used a wide angle lens to capture the bigger machines in their entirety but it was the 35mm lens that brought out the warmth of all the pre-microprocessor components. I switched to manual mode to photograph the screens with a shutter speed set to around 1/50 to eliminate flicker.