Enigmatic at Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park, scene of the cracking of Enigma. (n4trb.com)

Bletchley Park, scene of the cracking of Enigma. (n4trb.com)

My ongoing investigation of the alleged widespread dislike of Victorian architecture at some point in the past – which I dispute – led me to this passage from Enigma, by Robert Harris, a novel about the quest to decipher the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War II. The British success at this, and the role of Alan Turing, was the subject of the recent movie The Imitation Game. Both the film and the book take place largely at Bletchley Park, the estate in the town of Bletchley north of London where the codebreakers had their quarters in a mansion described by fictional codebreaker Tom Jericho, the book’s protagonist. Turing plays just a minor role (so far at least) in the book. Harris is the author of Fatherland, from which I quoted twice in recent posts. Here is the passage from Enigma:

He seldom went into the big house these days but whenever he did it reminded him of a stately home in a twenties murder mystery. (“You will recall, Inspector, that the colonel was in the library when the fatal shots were fired …”) The exterior was a nightmare, as if a giant handcart full of the discarded bits of other buildings had been tipped out in a heap. Swiss gables, Gothic battlements, Greek pillars, suburban bay windows, municipal red brick, stone lions, the entrance porch of a cathedral – the styles sulked and raged against one another, capped by a bell-shaped roof of beaten green copper.

On rereading my transcription of the passage, I must admit to some astonishment that the word Victorian does not appear at all. But it might as well. Or maybe not. Maybe the bone I have to pick on this subject has led me astray in selecting this quote for the edification of readers. But does the description actually match the mansion, now a museum of cryptology, at Bletchley Park? I see the Gothic battlements, perhaps, but stone lions?  Look at the shots above and below and you get the impression that Harris was unpacking a load of his own architectural prejudices. Maybe. You decide.

Aerial view of Bletchley Park. (jerrygarrett.wordpress.com)

Aerial view of Bletchley Park. (jerrygarrett.wordpress.com)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Enigmatic at Bletchley Park

  1. kristen says:

    a better portrayal of Bletchlcey Park environs and the players in the Enigma saga is the 2001 film “Enigma” (screenplay by Tom Stoppard, directed by Michael Apted, Mick Jagger was one of the producers). on my list of most favorite films. didn’t deal with Turing issue as “The Imitation Game” did (good, but also disappointing film, in my opinion), but the environment was ever-present. I highly recommend “Enigma” for the story – and the architecture and landscape.

    Like

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