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20th June 2014, 8:55am
Conservators reveal how Bletchley Park huts would have looked to Turing and co
Bletchley Park The historic World War Two codebreaking huts at Bletchley Park have opened to the public following extensive research by expert conservators at the University of Lincoln.

Bletchley Park is famous for its role as the central site of the UK’s Government Code and Cypher School (GC&S), which during World War Two regularly infiltrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers.

The park’s WWII buildings were only intended to be temporary, and were laid out to maintain the ‘Ultra’ level of secrecy required to protect the site and its successes. The contents of the huts have since remained a mystery; however work by a team of specialist conservators means that their original appearance is now being revealed to the public, 70 years on.

As part of an £8million Heritage Lottery Fund project, staff and students from Crick Smith, the University of Lincoln’s renowned conservation consultancy division, were called in to expose the secrets concealed beneath layers of paint in Block C and four codebreaking huts. These include Hut 8, which was famously led by Alan Turing OBE and was responsible for German naval cryptanalysis.

The team carried out architectural paint research – an innovative research methodology that combines archival findings with microscopic examination of paint samples - to decipher the decorative history of the huts.  They analysed paint samples from targeted areas of the buildings and quantified the colours using a spectrophotometer (specialist equipment which measures how light reflects from an object), before finding exact replicas to faithfully restore the paintwork.

Ian Crick-Smith, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln and Crick Smith, said: “After the war, the structures at Bletchley Park deteriorated considerably, with some becoming almost derelict. A number of the huts have been used since, for example by telecom operators; however others haven’t and until recently still featured the net curtains which were in place throughout the war years! It was therefore important to build a complete decorative history of the huts, and advise on how to construct an authentic representation of how they looked, and felt, during the war.

“Our investigations revealed that they were painted a military green colour by way of camouflage – the typical army print wasn’t used as it was vitally important that they didn’t stand out as part of the war effort and could be easily ignored by planes flying overhead. Of course, the key to their success was remaining completely inconspicuous.”

While working at Bletchley, the team also made some interesting discoveries about the materials used inside the huts, such as the original blackout curtains and sound-proof ceiling panels.

Michael Crick-Smith, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln and Crick Smith, explained: “During our research, the panels used to sound-proof the ceilings to reduce noise levels and help ensure privacy were removed temporarily, and we discovered that some of the original labelling remained in place. I learned that the manufacturer of these panels, Celotex, was an American company that established a base in the UK shortly after the First World War, and is now based in Suffolk. It was interesting to discover that the panels are in fact made from a by-product of sugar cane, and many of them have now been restored and reinstated.”

The Crick Smith conservators worked alongside a team of other experts to return the site to its wartime appearance, including conservation architect Janie Price and Event Communications, who were tasked with interpreting the complex stories behind Bletchley’s secrets. Together, their work has created an atmospheric experience for visitors, as they step back in time and learn the extraordinary truth about Bletchley’s unassuming buildings.

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