Campaigners race to boost bid for Turing's papers

Bletchley Park campaigners are scrambling to find funds to buy a set of papers belonging to code-breaker Alan Turing when they go on auction on Tuesday

Bletchley Park backers are racing to raise funds to buy papers written by ground-breaking computer scientist Alan Turing, which are set to go on public auction on Tuesday.

A collection of Turing's papers are up for bidding as part of a 2pm auction at Christie's in London. They are expected to go for between £300,000 and £500,000, according to the list price.

Campaigners on behalf of the Bletchley Park Trust submitted a bid of £21,000 on Monday, in the hope of gaining the mathematician's papers and putting them on display at its museum, where Turing carried out crucial World War II work in computer science and decryption. They are now working to raise more funds and submit a higher bid, Kelsey Griffin, the director of museum operations at Bletchley Park Trust, told ZDNet UK.

Alan Turing image

A statue of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. Photo credit: ZDNet UK

It is "incredibly important" that Turing's papers be made available to the British public, according to the leader of the campaign, journalist Gareth Halfacree. "The papers are a link to the past, a physical manifestation of history. To have the papers housed at Bletchley Park, where Turing did much of his work, would be both a fitting tribute to the man and a massive boon for the museum, which exists entirely upon public donations and money raised from visitors," Halfacree said.

The £21,000 has come from donations to Halfacree's Just Giving page and the sale by the Bletchley Park Trust of two Faberge eggs, according to Griffin. On Monday, Google pledged $100,000 (£62,000), bringing the total to almost £90,000.

"Turing is a hero to many of us at Google for his pioneering work on algorithms and the development of computer science. He's also an important figure for many across the world who face homophobic attacks and bullying," the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The documents on sale include offprints of Turing's papers on artificial intelligence, computable numbers and work on the automatic computing engine, as well as signatures, according to the Christie's listing. "Turing manuscript material and offprints are of the utmost rarity; there are no records of either appearing at auction in the past 35 years," the auction site said.

The lot "includes the codebreaker Max Newman's copies of many of Turing's papers... Turing's signature is on at least one document", Bletchley Park campaigner Sue Black, a computer scientist at University College, London, wrote in a blog post.

The campaigners are still appealing for donations via Halfacree's Just Giving page. If their bid is unsuccessful, all the money raised will still go to Bletchley Park Trust, according to Halfacree. It will be used on "their vitally important charitable works ensuring public access to other such historical artefacts, maintenance of buildings that form part of our national heritage, and other works for which they are in desperate need of funding", he said.