19 August, 2005

Permanent home for Colossus rebuild

It seems that some controversy about the future of the Colossus computer reconstruction at Bletchley Park has been resolved. Some background:

The Colossus computers were computing devices built during World War II to break high-level German teleprinter ciphers at Bletchley Park. They have a claim to being the first digital computers, but they were kept secret until the 1970s.

Tony Sale and his team have invested around 6,000 man-days over the last 10 years painstakingly constructing a functioning replica of a Colossus. The rebuild is sited in H Block at Bletchley Park, where an original Colossus was installed during WWII, and is quite an awe-inspiring bit of kit. For many people, it's the crowning exhibit at Bletchley Park.

Last year, Bletchley Park Trust decided to put H block up for sale. Quite why they did this, I don't know, but possibly to raise cash to keep the museum running. Their decision drew criticism from various quarters. One objection was that H block was of historical importance: the building is the "world's earliest purpose-built building erected specifically for electric computers". Moreover, selling H block would mean that the Colossus rebuild would have to be relocated. Tony Sale argues that moving the Colossus would be "a very complex and difficult operation and it is quite likely that Colossus would never work again." That, of course, would have been a tragedy.

Well, the news is that it seems the Colossus rebuild is now secured. I don't claim to understand the politics involved, but it seems that Bletchley Park Trust have acquired funding which means that H block will be kept, and the Colossus rebuild will be able to remain in its current position. See the press release issued today. On Sale's Codes and Ciphers Heritage Trust there's more information about H block.

Hopefully this means the Colossus rebuild will be available for viewing by the public again soon.

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Blogger Dirk Rijmenants said...

It's incredible that such an important piece of Britisch history must be preserved and cared for by some individuals. I hope that things don't fall apart when the veteran crypto geeks die out. GCHQ should, no, are obliged to sponser Tony and his gang!

3:49 pm  
Blogger College Boy said...

Here in the States the NSA maintains a museum known as the National Cryptologic Museum. This is very good, I was agitating for just such a thing when I was in the neighborhood where it was later built in 1993.


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