FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Bluebell explorers

Posted in Bletchley, Croydon, England by folkestonejack on November 9, 2013

One of the delightful side-effects of the Bluebell Railway’s re-connection to the mainline has been the emergence of Sheffield Park as a destination for charter trains. In the year to date there have been three steam-hauled charters, starting with Tornado’s visit on 10th September 2013. I missed that occasion but managed to catch the next two charters en-route to the Bluebell Railway.

The next charter to the Bluebell Railway was hauled by BR Britannia Class no. 70013 Oliver Cromwell, which blasted through Bletchley rather magnificently at 11:01am on 2nd November 2013. The tour was pretty neat in design, as it ran from one preserved railway to another (having started at Bridgnorth on the Severn Valley Railway). Unfortunately, the weather was rather dreadful by the time it arrived at the Bluebell Railway.

Oliver Cromwell hauls the Bluebell Explorer through Bletchley on 2nd November 2013

Oliver Cromwell hauls the Bluebell Explorer through Bletchley on 2nd November 2013

The third charter stuck to southern metals, running from London Victoria to Sheffield Park, followed by a run to Uckfield and then back to London Victoria. Unusually, this charter was topped and tailed by steam locomotives – BR rebuilt Light Pacific 4-6-2 no. 34046 ‘Braunton’ on the front and LMS Class 5MT 4-6-0 no. 44932 on the back.

Braunton hauls the Bluebell Explorer through South Croydon on 9th November 2013

Braunton hauls the Bluebell Explorer through South Croydon on 9th November 2013 around 9.21am

Typically, the light was beautiful in the lead up but the clouds had crept in by the time the railtour passed through my chosen spot at South Croydon. Nevertheless, this was still better than conditions on the Bluebell Railway itself which was once again quite wet.

A Southern class 455 electric multiple unit passes through South Croydon about 40 minutes earlier

A Southern class 455 electric multiple unit passes through South Croydon about 40 minutes earlier, with significantly better light

It will be good fun catching other railtours as they pass through the area in the coming years. It’s a great stretch of line with some interesting places to watch and photograph a steam locomotive working.

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Bletchley Park

Posted in Bletchley, England by folkestonejack on November 2, 2013

I have been meaning to make the short journey north of London to Bletchley Park for some time now, but only got around to it today – spurred on by a recent visit by a colleague.

The sprawling estate of Bletchley Park and its opulent mansion house was the home of a wealthy stockbroker in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It might have remained in relative obscurity but for its transformation into a remarkable code-breaking hub during the Second World War.

A griffin guards the entrance to the Mansion

A griffin guards the entrance to the Mansion

The peaceful surroundings that visitors see today make it hard to imagine the industrial nature of the place in wartime, served by around 10,000 staff at its peak, with hut after hut reverberating to the terrific noise of the decryption devices (bombes) that would have been in near continuous operation.

The site was almost lost when proposals were made to demolish the surviving buildings in 1992, prompting a campaign that led to the preservation of the site for the nation and its subsequent restoration. The extent of the site today is impressive and there are more spaces/displays than can be easily visited in one go, but as the tickets are valid for a year you can easily split a visit between two trips.

The cottages

The cottages

I had heard some of the stories to have emerged in recent years, but I had only a limited understanding of the incredible breakthroughs achieved. For example, I had a sketchy idea of the Enigma story but knew nothing of the breaking of the Lorenz cipher, nor the stories of the breaking of the Italian and Japanese cypher systems. I wanted to absorb all the detail as we wandered around the place, discovering just how lacking my knowledge of this hidden period of history was.

One of the highlights of our visit was the newly re-opened Hut 11A. This hut was built in March 1942 as an additional space to house the Bombe machines that were used to search for the Enigma cypher keys. The machines created a hot and noisy environment for the Wrens who operated them, complete with smells of oil and grease. Today, a little of this is captured using compelling audio-visuals of two actresses who describe what is going on in the room that they work in.

Unrestored section of D Block

Unrestored section of D Block

At the time of our visit work was underway to renovate Block C, which will be opened as the new visitor centre in mid-2014. Huts 3 and 6 were also being restored to their wartime condition and are also due to re-open in mid-2014. Even with this work complete there will still be areas of the complex that remain in a derelict condition, such as Block D. The Bletchley Park Trust has long term plans to restore and re-open this block too.

There are so many stories that have to be told, from the incredible work of codebreakers Alan Turing and Dilly Knox through to the day to day lives of the remarkable men and women who kept this place operational twenty-four hours a day. It is all credit to the trust that this story is now being told and will not be forgotten.