Alan Turing collection secured by Bletchley Park

By Culture24 Staff | 25 February 2011
A photo of a large statue of a man with a side parting in a museum
The statue of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, showing the codebreaking genius working on his groundbreaking Enigma machine, will now be joined by a new collection of his works© Sjoerd Ferwerda
Alan Turing’s life story is a brilliant but ultimately cruel one. An extraordinary computer scientist and mathematical genius, he played an important role in the fledgling predecessors of modern computers. But it was his Enigma codebreaking machine, used at Bletchley Park to decipher German communications, that perhaps makes him the Second World War figure Britain owes most to.

The end of his life is an indictment of the times he lived in – convicted of having a sexual relationship with another man in 1952, when homosexuality was illegal, he was forced to absorb hormone treatment amounting to chemical castration.

A black and white photo of a bald man in a suit and glasses staring at the camera
Turing’s friend and long-term codebreaking confidant Max Newman© Bletchley Park Trust
After becoming a target for surveillance at the start of the Cold War, he died from apparent self-poisoning in 1954.

Almost no records of his life and career remain, so the Bletchley Park Trust and Museum felt they had to act when an “extremely rare” collection of offprints of his published works, including his momentous On Computable Numbers paper, were put up for auction.

A public campaign raised £28,500 in 11 days, Google pledged $100,000 to the bid, and now the National Heritage Memorial Fund has sealed the acquisition with a £213,437 donation.

“Safeguarding our heritage isn’t just about bricks and mortar or fine art,” says John Penrose, the Tourism and Heritage Minister, reflecting on a collection which will arrive at the Buckinghamshire site today (February 25 2011).

“It’s also about preserving the evidence of significant scientific discoveries and inventions. The National Heritage Memorial Fund’s grant to the Bletchley Park Trust to help secure this collection is fantastic news and reflects the great advances Turing made in terms of code breaking and computer science which, as we now recognise, helped to turn the tide for this country during the war.”

A photo of the front sheet for a book
Pioneering paper On Computable Numbers© Bletchley Park Trust
In September 2009, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an unequivocal apology for the way Turing had been treated, saying the scientist deserved “so much better” on behalf of “all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work”.

The articles heading to Bletchley belong to Turing’s friend and long-term codebreaking confidant Max Newman and are inscribed in Turing’s hand. There are also signatures of other vital members of the Bletchley operation.

“Max Newman supported Alan Turing and collaborated with him for nearly 20 years, starting in 1935 when Turing was inspired by one of Newman’s lectures to write On Computable Numbers,” said Newman’s son, William.

“It was a huge blow to Turing and also to Newman and his wife, Lyn, when Turing was arrested and prosecuted for gross indecency. Newman gave evidence at Turing’s trial and may have helped the court decide towards sentencing Turing to probation rather than imprisonment.” Lyn Newman described Turing’s death as “the most shattering thing that has ever happened to me”.

A photo of a sheet of mottled paper with ink signatures on it
Signatures of leading members of the Bletchley Park squad are also on show© Bletchley Park Trust
“Alan Turing was a true war hero and played an absolutely crucial role during the Second World War,” says Dame Jenny Abramsky, the Chair of the Memorial Fund.

“This is such welcome news. The Fund was set up in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK and this grant will now ensure that this extremely rare collection of his work stands as a permanent memorial to the man.”

Simon Greenish, the head of the Bletchley Park Trust, praised the “astonishing support” provided by the funders for the “hugely important” exhibits.

“We are delighted to have the collection here at Bletchley Park, which is surely its most fitting home,” he added.

“It will be an incredible addition to the visitor experience.”
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