Bletchley Park Super Visit with Stephanie Webb

I’d been meaning to visit Bletchley Park since watching the film The Imitation Game a few years ago. December’s IMA Scholars Super Visit gave me the perfect opportunity make this long-anticipated trip. 

On arrival, the Scholarship Team assigned me to my workshop group and pointed me in the direction of the entrance. Here, I booked myself on a guided tour and picked up a set of headphones for an audio tour of the estate. I started listening to this and headed up towards the Mansion.  

It was there I bumped into some fellow scholars, I immediately took off my headphones and exchanged trainee experiences with my peers. Networking with fellow maths trainees is one of my favourite parts of IMA events. Whilst I get great support from fellow trainees in my SCITT, hearing the successes and frustrations of other maths scholars really helps me know that I am not alone as a maths teacher trainee and am experiencing similar things to others. 

It was time for the purple wristband group to join a guided tour of the estate, where our volunteer guide shared the history of the site and gave real context to the people and events that had led to the Enigma machine’s role in World War II, including the development of The Bombe machine. As we stood by a memorial, our guide stressed the importance of Polish Cipher Bureau’s work in reconstructing the Enigma machine that led to Britain being able to decipher the Enigma machine’s code. 

The highlight of the day followed - a presentation by Thomas Briggs, Bletchley Park’s Learning Manager.  Through teaching, he led us through different coding systems and cryptography, explaining why ciphers such as morse code aren’t actually codes as the cipher is known. We learnt about Caesar wheels, and then more complex coding systems. It wasn’t long until we discovered why we had had to bring a Pringles tube – we built our own Enigma machine. Thomas’ humour and delivery was very engaging and brought to life the maths behind the cryptography as we worked out how many different combinations there are for the settings on the Enigma machine. The workshop, and Thomas’ delivery, were definite inspiration for a lesson I’d like to deliver in the future. 

Before leaving the workshop, we got to play with a real Enigma machine – the same one that Benedict Cumberbatch had used when playing Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. 

The visit also included a walk around several exhibits – including one on the recreational life of the Bletchley Park workers, the office of Alastair Denniston (Head of the Government Code and Cypher School), recreations of the codebreaking huts (including the real office of Alan Turing), and an exhibition explaining the development of The Bombe. 

Whether you’ve an interest in history or cryptography, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the home of the codebreakers. 

Now to eat another 30 packs of Pringles so that I can build Enigma machines with a class after Christmas! 

Stephanie Webb