Gates rejects birthplace of modern computing

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has refused a request for funds from Bletchley Park - where the first modern computer was reputedly developed

Saving the birthplace of modern computing would seem like a cause a billionaire who owes his fortune to technology would rally to. But Bill Gates has other priorities, it seems.

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has turned down a request for funding from the UK's Bletchley Park -- reputedly the home of the world's first modern programmable computer and widely credited with helping bring WW2 to an early end.

The Bletchley Park Trust, which runs the heritage site in Buckinghamshire, made a request to the foundation run by Gates and his wife last month but was rejected on the grounds that the trust is only funding Internet-related technology projects.

But Christine Large, Bletchley Park Trust's director, said that the site won't take no for an answer and will make another application to the IT billionaire's foundation -- estimated to have handed out around $6.3bn to mainly health-related causes since it was set up in 2000.

"We haven't accepted their rejection because just maybe they haven't understood what it is this place is about," she said.

Large said the overall plan is to turn Bletchley into a communications heritage park, building on its innovative history, which includes being the site of mathematical genius Alan Turing's development of a series of machines to automate the decryption of the German Enigma code. This culminated in the first programmable computer Colussus I.

Large added that Bletchely had also been in talks with another large IT vendor -- which markets itself as being all about 'inventing' -- but the deal broke down after the company went through corporate change. She said that the site would also "love to do some work" with IBM but hadn't approached the company yet.

Bletchley is also planning to launch a technology incubator this autumn to allow modern computing start-ups to benefit from the innovative surroundings.

The success of Colussus I led to the building of ten more Mk II models, creating the world's first computer complex -- which is still standing in Bletchely. Unfortunately the prime minister at the time, Winston Churchill, ordered the machines to be destroyed at the end of the war.

Bletchley has raised around £1m of a £6.5m target detailed in a management plan to save the complex back in 1999 after rumours that the site was going to be redeveloped or sold off in chunks.

The trust currently has to raise around £1.5m a year just to maintain the site in its current condition.

Despite its code-breakers being credited with ending the Second World War at least two years ahead of time, and its innovative history, Bletchley receives no public funding at all from the UK Treasury.

Large said the UK government has concentrated on funding the core national museums, which doesn't leave much money left over for sites like Bletchley.

"I have had it said to me by the MD of a German company, ironically, if this was Germany you would be reporting to the Chancellor -- there wouldn't be any messing around."

Large claimed that Bletchley isn't expecting "any hand-outs from the UK government because "it just won't happen" but the trust is hoping for Heritage Lottery funding in the next 18 months of around £2 to 3m with more expected over time.

She said the site is starting to receive some good support from trusts and funds. "The market for private individual funding was seriously hit when the technology bubble burst. But it's starting to come back. But we still have a serious funding gap."