Wtd: advice upcoming visit to Bletchley Park / comp museum

Liam Proven lproven at gmail.com
Mon Jul 8 06:14:31 CDT 2019

On Sun, 7 Jul 2019 at 11:40, Bill Degnan via cctech
<cctech at classiccmp.org> wrote:
> Refined question - When would I have to depart the museum in order to
> travel by rental car (driving legal speeds) from Bletchley to Gatwick
> Airport in time for a 4PM flight on 7/11 (A Thursday)?

To echo what others have said:

* you will have around an hour and a half at the museum. I would say
that's about the right ballpark.

* there are 2 _entirely separate_ museums on the Bletchley Park site:
** Bletchley Park: https://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/
** The National Museum of Computing: https://www.tnmoc.org/

The BP Museum is just a museum and this largely devoid of anything of
tech interest.

TNMOC has the interesting technology, such as Colossus and so on. It
happens to be situated on the site of BP and in some BP huts and

The history in very brief and AIUI is this:

All the wartime activity at BP was classified for ~50y after the war.
Apart from a few nerds -- i.e. us lot -- nobody knew or cared what
happened. Alan Turing was some boring dead mathematician. The park and
mansion was of no interest or significance to anyone but someone owned
it so it didn't get demolished, but most of the land was taken for a
nearby housing estate. A "project" in American English, I think? The
buildings were left to rot.

Then the Enigma project etc. got declassified, computing got old
enough and mainstream enough that cultural awareness of it seeped into
the mainstream. The handful of surviving codebreakers got recognition,
awards etc. People starting trying to reconstruct the machines used.
Much of this effort was onsite because the huts were still there,
derelict and so cheap.

This developed into a museum of computing. That in turn developed into TNMOC.

Meantime, as historical awareness grew, the mansion house got bought
for the nation, preserved and turned into a museum.

People started coming. But while they were interested in the site and
the buildings, most of them were interested in the machines and the
rebuild project and the nerd stuff.

My impression is that the BP museum people were surprised by this,
having thought all the actual nerd stuff was of niche interest and
that the _site_ was the interesting bit.

But what grew into TNMOC was the big tourist attraction.

So the 2 entities are _rivals_. My impression is that the BP people
resent TNMOC and the nerds, but they need the rent, the income, the
tourist draw. Without TNMOC the BP museum would collapse. But that
means they need those horrible smelly nerds and their nasty machines,
and the weirdoes who want to see them, instead of decent clean-living
upright folk who respect British Military History and want to know
about the noble heroic military effort.

The fact that the nerds know that Turing was gay, and convicted as a
criminal for it, and was hounded to death by the Establishment instead
of being lauded as a war hero -- the story the BP museum would rather
tell -- is even worse.

Result? The publicity material, signposts etc. doesn't mention TNMOC.
The ticket doesn't cover TNMOC. When I asked about TNMOC I got the
impression that the salesperson didn't want to tell me and wanted to
pretend it didn't exist.

You need 2 tickets. You need to visit 2 separate sites, located a few
yards apart, and you can't move from one to the other.

You could spent 30min having a very quick hustle around the park and
the mansion and their huts, then go get a TNMOC ticket and spend an
hour having a very quick hustle around TNMOC seeing all the lovely old
kit and mourning that you don't have time to read any labels, play
with anything, and that if it's like it was when I was there 7-8y ago,
that it's sad that so much kit isn't connected or running or restored
because they don't have enough volunteers.

Then you'll have to run for your car after a very hasty and
unsatisfactory 90 minute visit and if there are any bad traffic
problems you might still miss your plane. :-(

British roads are small, narrow and congested. Our traffic is
horrifyingly bad. 2½h to do 90 miles is somewhat optimistic.

Saying that, I think you'll still be glad you did it and would be sad
to miss it.

>  I will have left
> the airport originally on an extended layover between flights, I assume I
> on my return I will have to go through security all over again.

Yes. Nowhere else has flights like American flights. Yours are like a
bus service to us: walk in, pay, fly. I've only done it once and it
was amazing.

All flights in and out of Britain are full international flights. You
need to be there and getting in the line for check-in 2 hours before
scheduled departure, regardless of flight delays. You will have to do
full security, passport control, immigration etc. Expect to be treated
like you just got home to the USA after a decade in Moscow and you've
grown a beard and acquired a strong Russian accent.

So allow at least half an hour to park up, return your hire car, find
the right terminal, etc.

So if your flight is from LGW at 4, you need to schedule your return
for about 1:30 PM. That means leaving BP at about 11AM, I'm afraid. So
you have about 45min each in the 2 museums at best. I'd do BP first,
move as fast as you can, then spend the bulk of your time on TNMOC.

> I greatly appreciate all of the advice given.  I really don't like the idea
> of pushing it given the times involved but I have the enthusiasm to try if
> possible.

It will be a major effort to do it at all.

Britain looks small but it's not. It's effectively ¼-⅕ the size of the
USA, in density of people, buildings etc., and our critical
infrastructure dates from the late Roman Empire to the modern stuff
which is slightly newer than the USA War of Independence.

In US terms, trying to get to BP and back when you have 17h is roughly
equivalent to trying to see Niagara Falls when you have 1 day in
Manhattan. Or visiting Hollywood if you have an overnight stop in San

Liam Proven - Profile: https://about.me/liamproven
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