April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Can Twitter Save Bletchley Park?

Sue Black, University of Westminster, Jonathan P. Bowen, Museophile Limited, and Kelsey Griffin, Bletchley Park Trust, United Kingdom


Bletchley Park is the historic site of secret British codebreaking activities during World War II and birthplace of the modern computer. The work carried out there is said to have shortened WWII by two years, saving possibly 22 million lives. The Park is now a museum, with a 26 acre site, many exhibitions and working rebuilds of machines such as the Colossus, a forerunner of today's computers, invented to mechanize codebreaking. The museum is staffed by a 75% volunteer workforce and is grossly underfunded compared to its historical importance.

After a visit by Sue Black to Bletchley Park in July 2008, a campaign was launched to save it. A letter to the UK broadsheet newspaper The Times signed by 97 eminent UK computer scientists was published and highlighted in a BBC news broadcast. Following traditional media coverage, a blog was established, and then social media, (particularly Twitter), which have been used to great effect to raise awareness and support for the campaign. Other Web 2.0 technologies, including Facebook, have also been used as part of the campaign.

This paper explores the effectiveness of this approach, using statistical evidence as appropriate, highlighting how the use of social media has contributed greatly to campaign success. Since the Saving Bletchley Park campaign started, visitor numbers have increased, along with public awareness of the contribution of the site to world heritage and the history of the computer.

Campaign efforts have received national coverage on television, on radio, and in the press and have contributed to the Park recently receiving £460K funding and a potential further £4 million funding from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund.

Keywords: blogging, fundraising, heritage, virtual community, United Kingdom, Web 2.0, social media, Twitter


“It looks as if Bletchley Park is the single greatest achievement of Britain during 1939–45, perhaps during this century as a whole.”George Steiner (Harris, 1995)

This paper presents recent progress in saving the United Kingdom’s World War II codebreaking legacy at Bletchley Park (BP, aka Station X, Bletchley_Park) using an on-line campaign. The wartime activities at Bletchley Park have received increasing exposure through books (Hinsley & Stripp, 1993; Smith, 1998). Remarkable people worked at BP during the war ( People_associated_with_Bletchley_Park), including Alan Turing (see Figure 1), a major figure in the codebreaking effort and one of the fathers of modern computing (Hodges, 1983; Copeland, 2004). Tommy Flowers designed the Colossus, an early electronic computing device, used for decryption at BP during WWII. This has been reconstructed by a team led by Tony Sale ( BP and the codebreaking of the German Enigma machine used for encryption during WWII have even been the subject of a novel (Harris, 1995), which was subsequently made into a major film ( /tt0157583/), produced by Mick Jagger, starring Kate Winslet, and with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard (

Figure 1

Fig 1: Sculpture of Alan Turing for Bletchley Park by Stephen Kettle (

Despite the importance of BP to British 20th century history, it has received little funding till recently. The lack of any significant financial means has precluded traditional fund-raising on a large scale. However, with the availability of Web 2.0 technologies on-line, much cheaper and potentially just as effective ways to raise money for worthy courses are now available if they can be harnessed in an appropriate manner. This depends on the available of people with the necessary interest, drive, social awareness, and technical expertise, to undertake this. BP has managed to enable this to some degree, and it could make a real difference to its future. This paper documents the effort undertaken to date.

The campaigning has produced significant coverage in UK national media and well as some initial funding from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund (Arthur, 2009), with more possible in the future. Much of it has been informal, unofficial, and low-cost in nature, yet very effective despite, or perhaps even because of, that. Of course, maintaining this momentum with continued on-line participation may require Bletchley Park to develop its own on-line activities further (Russo & Peacock, 2009). Certainly, the establishment of virtual communities has become of increasing interest to museum-related organizations as Web 2.0 technology has developed (Beler et al., 2004; Bowen et al, 2007; Bowen, 2008).

Section 2 provides some historical background to the wartime work at Bletchley Park. Section 3 presents the Bletchley Park Trust that was set up in 1992 to save BP. Section 4 outlines the on-line campaign that has been undertaken from the Trust’s  viewpoint, including some statistical information. Section 5 gives another view of on-line activities started in 2008, this time from an enthusiast’s perspective. Some concluding remarks are provided in Section 6.

Wartime Bletchley Park

The work here at Bletchley Park was no optional extra; no engaging very British sideshow; it was utterly fundamental to the survival of Britain and to the triumph of the West and I’m not actually sure that I can think of very many other places where I could say something as unequivocal as that. This is sacred ground. If this isn’t worth preserving, what is?

Professor Richard Holmes, military historian (

Bletchley Park ( was Britain’s top secret codebreaking hub of World War Two. At the peak of war, 9,500 people worked at Bletchley Park (BP) on three shifts around the clock deciphering up to 6,000 messages per day. BP’s breathtaking successes in breaking German coded messages, against odds of 158, million, million, million to one, shortened the war by two years, saving countless lives. What is more, not only is Bletchley Park credited with being the birthplace of the modern computer and the information age, having spawned Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, but it was also the catalyst in transforming national communications and intelligence from a one-room activity to an industry from which the modern UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, has emerged, countering the threats posed by terrorists, drugs, and serious crime.

For decades after World War Two, all the unsung intellectual warriors of Bletchley Park remained silent about their codebreaking achievements and did not receive public recognition. It was not until the wartime information was declassified in the mid-1970s that the truth began to emerge. The impact of those achievements on the outcome of the war and subsequent developments in communications still has not been recognized fully, but is gradually being credited.

“No single operation of the 2nd world war was so dependent on Bletchley as the Normandy landings. Indeed without the work which was done here there is no way the landings could have gone ahead let alone succeeded.”  (Sir Martin Gilbert, Official Churchill historian)

Bletchley Park Trust

“You [Bletchley Park Trust] are the keepers of one of the greatest British success stories.”(His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, TRH visit Bletchley Park and Milton's Cottage in Buckinghamshire, 23 July 2008) ( /trh_visit_bletchley_park_and_milton_s_cottage_in_buckinghams_903065299.html)

In 1991, Bletchley Park was under imminent threat of obliteration when it was earmarked for housing development and a supermarket. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed in 1992 with the aim of saving the site for the nation and ensuring that the incredible story of the codebreakers was not lost to future generations. Over the years and against all odds, the Trust has passionately fought and overcome the numerous perilous threats to the very existence of Bletchley Park. For the first time, it can now balance its budget, but its finances still quiver on a knife-edge. In addition to the raising of the £1 million needed to support its UK Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF, bid, it also needs short-term assistance of in the region of £250,000 per year to support its operational costs. The objective of the Trust now is to transform Bletchley Park into the world-class heritage and education centre it deserves to be, reflecting the profound significance of its impact on WWII, the 20th century and the way we all live today. Its business plan shows that once the museum development has been completed in the next three to five years, the Bletchley Park Trust will be self-supporting.

Bletchley Park Trust had a marketing, events and publicity budget totaling £34,000 for both 2008 and 2009. The vast majority of this is spent on printed material (mainly tickets and leaflets) and leaflet distribution. The budget becomes tighter year after year as the museum increases in popularity. The Trust cannot afford to pay to advertise the Museum in any publications/radio/TV media; all events are delivered on a nil budget unless outside sponsorship is raised. The Trust is heavily reliant on successful Media Relations to promote that it is open daily, as a museum, to visitors. Museum visitors account for 50% of its operational funding, with the other 50% generated through weddings, conferences and business lettings.

Figure 2

Fig 2:  Bletchley Park Trust homepage (

The Official On-line Campaign

In January 2009, Bletchley Park Trust embarked on a Twitter campaign to complement its external communications strategy and further raise its profile. In 1939, Bletchley Park was at the forefront of innovation, technology, intelligence and information. It was fitting that, seventy years later, it should adopt the latest developments in social media technology in order to raise the profile of the work of the Trust. In addition to regularly tweeting news, updates, images and historical anecdotes, many appeals for support have “gone viral”, notably the comedian Stephen Fry’s interest (Cellan-Jones, 2009) in the cause and the Alan Turing government apology (see later).

The Trust also introduced a  “Social Media Tweet-Up”once a month where Twitter followers are invited to meet at the museum free of charge providing that they blog and tweet about Bletchley Park. This has significantly increased Bletchley Park’s visibility on-line. The Trust has always allowed photography, but now, controversially, considering the policy of many traditional museums of photography bans, actively encourages this, and their official Flickr site ( boasts 3,000 photos demonstrating the vibrancy and diversity of what the museum has to offer visitors.

As can be demonstrated by the graph in Figure 3 below, it is clear that media interest was much higher in 2009 than in previous years. However, this can be attributed to a large number of nationally significant events occurring around the Trust and, during the course of the year, 49 press releases were written by the Trust by the Trust and distributed using traditional PR methods. These on-line news articles, however, were then amplified and wider publicized by Twitter.


No. of
news articles

2003 316
2004 405
2005 367
2006 439
2007 522
2008 598
2009 855

Fig 3: Annual number of published news articles about Bletchley Park (as identified by Google).

As can be seen by the graphs in Figure 4 and Figure 5 below, Web site traffic was significantly higher in 2009 compared to 2008: 21 million requests as compared to 13 million. Again, this can be attributed to an increased on-line presence on Twitter; however, it could also result from the increased press coverage demonstrated above. The campaign to save Bletchley Park started by Dr. Black in July 2008 (Cellan-Jones, 2009) can be seen to have had an effect on both Web site traffic and news articles written.

Figure 4

Fig 4: 2008 Web requests and pages delivered for the Bletchley Park Web site (

Figure 5

Fig 5: 2009 Web requests and pages delivered for the Bletchley Park Web site (

The year 2008 was an excellent one for the Trust with an increase of 35% in visitor numbers compared to 2007 due to some exceptional events, including the private visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the highlighting of the plight of Bletchley Park by Dr Sue Black via mainstream traditional television, radio and press in July 2008 (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Fig 6: 2009 Neglect of Bletchley condemned, BBC News, 24 July 2008 (

Because of the inability of repeating these exceptional events and because of the economic crisis, the Trust budgeted for a 20% decrease in visitor numbers for 2009. Therefore it is even more pleasing, given that half of the Trust’s income comes from admissions, to have achieved a 30% increase in 2009 visitor numbers over 2008 (see Table 1 below).

Monthly visitors 2008 2009 Key events and successes tweeted in 2009
January  1,859  2,075
  • The Trust began using Twitter.
February  2,741  3,489
  • Well-known comedian Stephen Fry asks tweeters to join the campaign.
March  4,825  5,633
  • Bletchley Park is announced in a national on-line voting campaign as the building of which the nation is most proud.
  • Milton Keynes Council, after going to the public vote on-line, announce they will partner and match-fund an offer of £300,000 for essential repairs at BP.
April  6,189  9,502  
May  7,385  10,121
  • Stephen Fry visits and tweets about BP.
  • Operational assistance for BP is rejected in the House of Lords.
June  7,228  7,492  
July  8,355  8,871
  • Foreign Secretary announces commemorative badges for BP Veterans.
  • HRH The Duke of Kent presents badges to veterans at Bletchley Park.
  • Early Day Motion asking for operational funding tabled by UK Member of Parliament Phil Willis.
August  11,641  12,460
  • The Prime Minister responds to the 22,000 signatures on the official No.10 petition requesting government assistance for BP by saying none would be forthcoming.
September  7,472  12,451
  • Enigma Reunion event is blogged and tweeted by ‘Amplified’ and the BBC’s Maggie Philbin.
  • Turing Apology Petition and BP feature on BBC’s Newsnight.
  • Prime Minister apologizes for treatment of Turing.
  • Heritage Lottery Fund announces that BP is to be awarded £460,000 following a successful ‘first round pass’.
  • ACCU (Association of C and C++ Users) hold a fundraising conference at BP.
October  7,165  10,937
  • The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, visits BP and presents badges to veterans
November  3,573  5,648
  • BBC Antiques Roadshow from BP screened.
  • ‘Boffoonery’, a comedy benefit night for BP was held at the Bloomsbury Theatre in the West End of London
December  1,892  2,682  
 Totals: 70,325 91,361  

Table 1: Monthly visitor figures for Bletchley Park in 2008/2009 and key events in 2009.

Bletchley Park is no longer “Britain’s  Best Kept Secret” (, and the work undertaken there during WWII is now becoming firmly embedded in the UK’s, if not the world’s, psyche, thanks to high-profile media coverage over the past two to three years. However, the fact that it is open daily, as a vibrant tourist attraction and heritage site, is still not widely known. Through Twitter, this message is beginning to penetrate the Web and reach a younger, tech-savvy audience. BP has always been visited by the over-sixties who view the site as a “war memorial”. With the constraints of a relatively tiny advertising budget, and instead using the financially free resource of Twitter, BP is receiving recognition as the “birthplace of modern computing” ( and has now being seen as the spiritual home of the dawn of the information age that underpins everything we do and rely on in today’s world of technology. As such, we are seeing a younger, family visitor demographic encouraged by the busy program of special family events and a solid educational focus. This is critical in perpetuating Bletchley Park’s place in history through future generations.

An Unofficial On-line Campaign

Dr. Sue Black visited Bletchley Park for the first time in 2003 to attend a British Computer Society (BCS, meeting as chair of the BCSWomen Specialist Group (; Black, 2005). As part of her visit she went on a tour of the 26-acre site comprising a historic mansion, many temporary huts from the 1940s, a lake and extensive grounds. She met the team that was rebuilding the Bombe machine (Lenton, 2001) and discussed the work with the team leader John Harper ( /bombe1.htm). They also discussed the contribution of women to the work carried out there during WWII; women made up more than 50% of the workforce there, but there was not much information about women’s contribution among the exhibits. Dr Black left that day with a passion for Bletchley Park, and particularly for telling the story of the contribution of the women who worked there. She left resolved to do something about this, eventually gaining funding for “The Women of Station X” project (

On a subsequent visit to Bletchley Park in July 2008, on a more thorough tour of the facilities, Dr Black saw the state into which some of the codebreaking huts had fallen (BBC, 2008; see Figure 7) and became annoyed and motivated (Black, 2009a). Why was the UK not looking after this amazing piece of heritage? The contribution made by the codebreakers and others working at Bletchley Park is immeasurable and has been said to have shortened WWII by two years, thus saving possibly 22 million lives (11 million per year were dying as a result of the war). It is also the birthplace of the computer ( Again, Dr Black left determined to do something.

Figure 7

Fig 7: A codebreaking hut at Bletchley Park (photograph by Sue Black, 2 July 2008).

At the time there was a petition to save Bletchley Park on the No. 10 Downing Street petition Web site ( As head of a computer science department, Dr Black is part of an on-line group comprising all Heads and Professors of computer science in the UK. Dr Black e-mailed the group telling them what she had seen at Bletchley Park and asked them to sign the petition. One hundred signed it within a few days. She then with colleague John Turner and others wrote a letter to The Times (Van Rijsbergen, 2008) and contacted several journalists and media representatives (Smyth, 2008). The BBC decided that they would like to cover a story on Bletchley Park and interviewed Dr. Black there. The interview was on BBC television and radio news that day; the story was picked up and subsequently covered around the world.

Following this, Dr. Black set up a blog (see Figure 8), was contacted by many people, including Bletchley Park veterans, and the campaign started.

Figure 8

Fig 8: Saving Bletchley Park homepage (

Towards the end of 2008, Dr. Black started using the micro-blogging Web site Twitter ( She realized quite quickly that it could be very useful in helping to find people who were interested in Bletchley Park and could facilitate greater awareness of the state of BP and its funding needs. After gaining a few hundred followers on Twitter, an initial visit was set up taking three social media experts to Bletchley Park for the day: @Sizemore, @Documentally, and @Jemimah_Knight (Knowles, 2009). All three were bitten by the Bletchley Park ‘bug’, a phenomenon where on visiting Bletchley Park a passion develops to ensure that it is saved for future generations to experience. @Documentally set up @BletchleyPark on Twitter, and all four of these  ‘twitterers’ proselytized about the use of social media to the Bletchley Park management. The day ended with a new awareness of the power of social media at Bletchley Park and a great boost to the campaign via all of the tweeting, ‘Twitpic-ing’ ( and blogging with a bigger and rapidly growing audience. Follower numbers continued to build up for @Dr_Black and now for @bletchleypark too (see Figure 9).

Fig 9: Bletchley Park Twitter page, 31 January 2010 (

In February 2009, Dr. Black decided to try in earnest to get a big celebrity onboard with the campaign. One evening in that month, Stephen Fry (; Cellan-Jones, 2009) tweeted a photograph of himself trapped in a lift in central London. Dr. Black decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss, so she sent Stephen Fry several tweets asking him to help save Bletchley Park. The next morning he tweeted:

 “#bpark You might want to sign the Save Bletchley Park petition. Read @Dr_Black 's reasons why on - BP won us the war! 2:11 AM Feb 4th from web”

Stephen Fry (

The response was incredible. Instead of the usual 50 hits per day on the campaign blog there were 8,000, and the 10 Downing Street petition received more than one thousand signatures that day. At that time, Stephen Fry had 200,000 followers on Twitter; he now has over 1.3 million!

The campaign continued in earnest. Word spread through Twitter; more and more people became interested and contacted Dr. Black and Bletchley Park itself. Dr. Black gave several talks at various conferences about the situation at Bletchley Park; for example, at the Amplified conference ( in London, UK, which brings together many interesting people with interesting stories to tell, and helps to amplify their message (a good format). Both Dr. Black and the Bletchley Park Director Simon Greenish continued to receive a growing number of invitations to speak about Bletchley Park and the campaign to a ‘geeky’ audience; for example, at the Europython ( and ACCU ( conferences, and one related to Ada Lovelace Day (, which was held at Bletchley Park. One of the main audiences that Dr. Black had identified as being likely to be interested in the Bletchley Park story is the geek audience. Dr. Black is a geek.

In May 2009, a greatly anticipated day arrived: Stephen Fry’s visit to Bletchley Park (Cellan-Jones, 2009), which had been arranged after his tweet in February. He obviously enjoyed his time there immensely and tweeted, to his now 500,000 followers, all through the day about what he was seeing and doing, wonderful publicity for Bletchley Park (see Figure 10).

Figure 10

Fig 10: Left to right: Simon Greenish, Stephen Fry, Sue Black, and Kelsey Griffin at Bletchley Park (photograph by Christian Payne, 12 May 2009,

Invitations for talks about Bletchley Park were increasing rapidly both to Dr. Black and to Bletchley Park; so much so that it was hard to respond to them all. Elsewhere, the campaign continued, with several approaches to UK government ministers. Dr. Black met several at this time, gaining agreement from one minister to table an Early Day Motion (EDM) on Bletchley Park and from another to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Bletchley Park. The EDM was tabled at the end of July 2009 (

The UK government response to the 10 Downing Street petition to save Bletchley Park was a disappointment in August 2009:

The Government agrees that the buildings on the Bletchley Park site are of significant historic importance and, although recognising the excellent work being carried out there, at present it has no plans, nor the resources, to extend its sponsorship of museums and galleries beyond the present number.

BletchleyPark - epetition response, 10 Downing Street, 25 August 2009 (

One of the most important people who worked at Bletchley Park during WWII was Alan Turing (Hodges, 1983), a brilliant mathematician, and most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes (Copeland, 2004). In 2009, a campaign was started, via another 10 Downing Street petition ( asking the UK government to apologize for the way that Turing had been treated by the UK establishment. As a practicing homosexual, illegal in the UK during his lifetime, Turing had been both persecuted, and prosecuted by the government of the day. On September 11th, 2009, the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the way that Alan Turing had been treated:

… his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him …  So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

(Treatment of Alan Turing was “appallin” - PM, 10 Downing Street, 10 September 2009) (

September 2009 was a good month for Bletchley Park; at the end of the month came a long-hoped-for announcement. The UK Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it would be giving Bletchley Park £465,000 to develop plans to help transform Bletchley Park into a world class heritage and educational centre (Arthur, 2009). This was the first step in a long process towards hopefully gaining substantial funding for the restoration of the site.

Throughout 2009, the presence of Bletchley Park on Twitter (Lee, 2009; Black, 2009b) and to a lesser extent on Facebook (Thomson, 2009; had been working towards building up popular support for the campaign. The campaign worked because it was led and supported by people who genuinely believe that something must be done to save Bletchley Park and would not accept anything else. Passion and commitment to the cause from the outset helped to instigate and mobilize a group of people on-line who once they heard about, and then understood, the situation became just as passionate and committed themselves. Something about the campaign that has surprised many people who have not been involved is the amount that people are willing to do to help, for no personal gain.


Without the enormous amount of work undertaken by Bletchley Park Trust’s heavily under-resourced staff team and its huge army of passionate volunteers, the Bletchley Park site would have been lost to the nation long ago and could not open its gates on a daily basis. However, the battle to save BP continues (McKay, 2009). Twitter has generated high-level support and increased the profile of the ongoing need for operational income to survive. It has also driven valuable visitors through the gate and increased traffic through the Web site, and has hugely increased its exposure on-line. Twitter has amplified the important mission of the Trust to preserve and highlight Bletchley Park’s key place in history and the impact of its work on the way we all live today.

When this paper was accepted for Museums and the Web 2010, Dr. Black and , Dr Black set up a JustGiving page (, requesting donations to help fund the conference trip. Dr. Black and many others tweeted about the page, asking for funds to attend the conference:

 “Please help @bletchleypark and me present our #bpark paper at #mw2010 in Denver:”

SueBlack (

In two short weeks, £2,500 was raised, ensuring that both Dr. Black and Kelsey Griffin (@bletchleypark), the Bletchley Park Trust Director of Museum Operations, were able to present this paper. This example demonstrates clearly the passion and support on Twitter for Bletchley Park.

So, can Twitter save Bletchley Park? We are doing our best, but only time will tell.


Bletchley Park Trust is very thankful for the immense support of volunteers, underpaid staff, and other independent supporters. In particular for this paper, many thanks to all those that contributed to Sue Black and Kelsey Griffin attending the Museums and the Web 2010 conference ( Without their contributions, large and small, the presentation of the paper would not have been possible. Jonathan Bowen is a Visiting Professor at the University of Westminster and an Emeritus Professor at London South Bank University (LSBU). His attendance at MW2010 has been funded by the Royal Society ( Thank you also to Dudley John and Tim Morgan for technical support at LSBU.



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Cite as:

Black, S., et al., Can Twitter Save Bletchley Park?. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted