Last chance to put a Bombe in the UK's National Museum of Computing

The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park is crowd-funding £50,000 to build a new gallery and install the electro-mechanical Bombe codebreaking machine alongside its Colossus rebuild. The deadline is 9.30am on Tuesday 13 March.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor
Part of the Bombe

Part of the Bombe electro-mechanical machine at Bletchley Park.

Photo: Jack Schofield

The deadline for the National Museum of Computing's crowd-funding appeal for £50,000 expires in a few hours, at 9.30am on Tuesday 13 March. Last-minute donations would be welcome, though it will get the cash even if there's a shortfall.

The volunteer-run museum, which is based in Bletchley Park, needs the money to house a reconstruction of the electro-mechanical Turing-Welchman Bombe, which assisted World War II codebreakers before Colossus was developed. Designed by Alan Turing and refined by Gordon Welchman, the Bombe was used to find the daily settings of Enigma machines.

The Bombe has been at Bletchley Park for some time, but needs a new home. The National Museum of Computing would like to install it in a new gallery alongside its reconstructed Colossus in Block H. The museum says this will involve "removing a wall and false ceiling, installing new flooring, power and lighting, relocation of existing exhibits, constructing a new Bombe store and office, plus creating all the necessary interpretive and display materials to enable the public to see the working Bombe reconstruction".

The move follows negotiations between the three charitable trusts involved: The Bletchley Park Trust (BPT), the Turing Welchman Bombe Rebuild Trust (TWBRT), and The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC).

The Bletchley Park Trust, which runs the mansion and most of the original site, is launching a special exhibition, The Bombe Breakthrough, in Hut 11A on March 24. It says:

It was intended that the Bombe Rebuild should be located in Hut 11A, an original building that the Bombe machines were housed in during the war, enabling visitors to see it operating within an accurate historical context.

Talks over the years have not led to a mutually satisfactory agreement between the two trusts and TWBRT have decided to relocate their exhibits to The National Museum of Computing. BPT fully respects this decision and is in discussion with TWBRT to ensure a smooth transition to their new home.

John Harper, chair of TWBRT, said in a statement: "After careful consideration of the options, TWBRT Trustees approached The National Museum of Computing, which agreed to host the Bombe exhibit. We are delighted with this solution and welcome the opportunity to remain part of the overall visitor attraction at Bletchley Park. We thank the Bletchley Park Trust for their co-operation over the years and are pleased that the story of the Bombe will remain very much part of the story that it tells."

One of the advantages of the move, according to Andrew Herbert, the chair of TNMOC, is the "very real synergy of the complementary skillsets of the Bombe and Colossus teams" of volunteers.

The move involves a leap of faith because TNMOC does not receive any UK government funding, and it has to pay BPT some £70,000 a year to rent Block H. It doesn't even get any Heritage Lottery funding, though the BPT received £8 million.

There were signs that all was not well on the site in 2014, when BPT reduced its tours from 90 to 60 minutes by excluding all of the computer museum, including the Colossus and Tunny galleries. TNMOC said BPT also erected "gates and barriers between its own display area and Block H [which] will almost certainly prove divisive". (See: National computer museum downgraded by Bletchley Park)

If you missed the crowdfunding effort, you can still make a donation by going to the museum's support page and marking your contribution 'Bombe'.

The support page enable's UK taxpayers to make a Gift Aid declaration, Americans to download an American Fund for Charities donation form, or to donate via PayPal or JustGiving. TNMOC says this extra support has added £6,220 to its appeal, which should enable it to reach the total required.

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