Friday, 29 May 2020

Milton Dreams - The City That Never Was - Chapter Seven

In the opening chapter I explained how I came to live in Bletchley Park.

Bletchley park ? It had been something or other in the war but nobody knew that much to talk about so the imaginations of we young undergraduates formed their own opinions.

There are some areas of the park which are still semi-secret, Doctor K W S Garwood explained to the assembled freshers as we were welcomed to the teacher training college in Bletchley Park.

What was secret about Royal Mail telephone engineers attending short-term courses in "The Mansion" ?  No BT in those days, Royal Mail managed the telephone network along side its primary job of delivering letters.

The hideous mansion stood on one side of a lake while Milton Keynes College of Education was on the other. I lived in a small room in what was the college's Middle Hall of Residence.  I wonder what that room had been used for during World War Two, today it is part of a Bomber Command museum exhibition.

Somewhere in Bletchley Park there was a third training centre. We were training to be teachers, there were those training to be Royal Mail telephone engineers and somewhere in the depths of the estate there was a centre to train air traffic controllers. But theirs were not the radar scanners inside the park which could be viewed along Whalley Drive. That was Doctor Garwood's semi-secret Diplomatic Wireless Service.

College was for having fun, a bit of learning could be fitted in along the way at convenient times during the three years needed to qualify as a teacher.

Sleeping in my bomber command  room was constantly subjected to interruption. I do wonder what my room had been use for during the war.  Doves lived in Bletchley Park, doves and pigeons. Every dawn would be broken with their cooing. The night and the day was constantly punctuated by the chimes of Saint Mary's Church clock. There really was no need for a watch living in Bletchley Park during those early years of the 1970's !

I do keep wondering what my room in Bletchley Park had originally been used for. We students examined the windows to see if there were any signs of former iron bars. Was the room once a cell housing a captured German airman or even a spy ?  There was no evidence.  I wonder what kind of interrogation techniques had been used in my bedroom. Did the chiming clock and cooing birds help mask any screams ?

We students were all issued with a pass to allow entry into Bletchley Park. The gatehouse was manned by a guard but we were seldom, if ever, challenged. We were supposed to use these passes to access the college refectory but again nobody bothered to ask for our identification. Did wartime secret agents in Bletchley Park have passes ?  If a secret agent had to carry a pass then that surely meant he was not secret in his identification.

What happened to the bodies of those who died under interrogating torture ?

Were they weighed down and thrown into the lake ?

Now and then we would lark about and ceremoniously throw a fellow student into the lake.

Why was the lake there ?     Was it natural or was it man-made ?

He never said a word while I was there but my Dad had something to do with Bletchley Park. To again quote Doctor Garwood, it must have been semi-secret. Dad is now ninety-four years old and I doubt he will ever reveal the truth.

As soon as he was old enough Dad volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. With the war coming to an end he was told there was no longer an urgent need for pilots but there was a need for signalers.  He told me he was offered a posting at Bletchley Park but ended up as a signals officer in Palestine at the time the State of Israel was being set up. He also told me that he never went anywhere without a gun and I do know two of his friends were shot by Israeli terrorists.

So was my Dad a spy ? Perhaps he was. Perhaps he slept in the same room as I did in Bletchley Park.

One of my books, The of Autobiography pf Billy Hardcastle, is set in Bletchley Park. Billy Hardcastle was indeed a spy and there is more to my fictional account than has so far been revealed in the factual history of Bletchley Park.

Why was Bletchley Park chosen as the secret location to break wartime German codes ?

Bletchley is mid-way between Oxford and Cambridge, there was a railway line connecting the two centres of learning back in wartime Britain.  It was also on the main railway line from London to Birmingham.  Sherwood Drive did not exist, nor did the buildings which were once Bletchley Grammar School and later a college. The railway marked the border of Bletchley Park with the railway station serving the four cities of Oxford, Cambrigle, London and Birmingham strategically located for Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park can be traced back top The Doomsday Book when it was part of Etone Manor - Water Eaton - Manor Road.  It was given by William The Conqueror to Bishop Geoffrey of Conatance.

In 1092 William II made Walter Gifford Lord of the Manor. It then progressed through the family to The Duke of Buckingham whose country estate was Stowe, the first landscape project of Lancelot Capability Brown. The Duke's London home was Buckingham House, now Buckingham Palace.

The estate was in the family of Doctor Brown Willis until 1780. At a cost of £5,000 Browne Willis build a mansion, Water Hall.

In 1882 Herbert Samuel, Sammy to his friends, Leon purchased the estate. Sammy was a benefactor who has left the area with many legacies including Leon Bridge and Leon Recreation Ground.  However, it was his wife, Lady fanny Leon who involved herself on a more practical side. It was she and not Sir Herbert who took an interest in the local school.

On the death of Sir Herbert Bletchley Park passed to Sir George Leon, second baronet. He allowed his mother to continue living in the park but on her death he sold the estate which eventually passed into the hands of the government to become the World War two decoding centre.

The school in which Lady Leon showed interest is now Knowles School, it had been Fenny Stratford Board School and Bletchley Road School.  Under headmaster D B Bradshaw it was Bletchley County Secondary School.

Not part of Milton Keynes Development Corporation's work but a joint Bletchley Urban District Council and Greater London Council development, the Lakes Estate was built to accommodate families over spilling from London. This vast new housing estate was going to needs its own school so Bletchley County Secondary School was moved to a new site and became Leon School.

Leon School, only acutely related to the Leon Family and most certainly not to Sir Herbert, was named after Leon Recreation Ground which stood behind the old school.  It was only after the naming of the school, particularly under the headmastership of Bruce Abbott, that a bridge was built to Sir Herbert.

I joined the staff of Leon School in January 1975. A year later I was promoted to become head of year.

Legends of the Leon Family's association with Bletchley Park were emerging as were the activities of the wartime code breakers.

H R Winterbotham's book The Ultra Secret was published but banned in Britain, banned by the government which still regarded wartime Bletchley Park as a secret not yet ready to be revealed. On a trip to California I purchased a copy then smuggled it through Heathrow Airport.

Leon Teacher Olive Whitford claimed to have known F W Wintherbotham. Her husband, Johnny, was a spy.  He worked at GCHQ Hanslope Park yet was always traveling abroad.  Actually he was an accountant who would visit the intelligence departments within embassies to audit their accounts !

Always on the look out for extra projects for my students I decided to trace the Leon Family Line and find out if any descendants of Sir Herbert and Lady Leon were still about.

Taking a group of students to Bletchley Park in order to tour the mansion and home of the Leon's a member of the then BT staff took me to one side. She asked my permission to tell the students about the ghost of Lady Leon which she was convinced haunted the mansion. She clearly believed beyond any doubt there was a ghost.

Helping with our research was the founding editor of The Bletchley Gazette who in his youth knew Lady Leon.  I asked him what his thinking about a ghost was.  If there is any way she could return to make sure we are all behaving ourselves she would, he said.

So is Bletchley Park haunted by Lady Fanny Leon ?  I can not say I met her during the time I lived there but my bedroom was not in the family mansion.  I wonder if any wartime residents knew her ?  I wonder if she had a hand helping the decoders.

There was great rivalry between the three Bletchley Schools. In the eyes of the other two Leon was regarded as the poor relation. However, Denbigh School was named after a railway bridge and Lord Grey after a claimed traitor to the crown, he wasn't really a traitor I hasten to say but in the wrong place at the wrong time and related to the wrong person. We had much to be proud of.

The findings of our project was published in 1991 in a little book titled In Search Of The Leons. The Leon Line was indeed alive and well. The Fourth Baronet is Sir John Leon.

My artistic father-in-law made a framed glass portrait of the Leon Coat of Arms. This was presented to Sir John by a group of Leon School students.

Until our project Sir John knew little of his family association with Bletchley Park. Sir John is perhaps better known as the actor John Standing who has appeared in films: The Elephant Man, The Eagle Has Landed and recently Churchill The Darkest Hour. It is thought that Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit for Sir John's mother.

John and I are friends on Facebook. I wonder what the wartime computer pioneers working in his family home of Bletchley Park would have made of the algorithms behind the world's largest computer phenomena. 

The concluding page in the book In Search Of The Leons has these words:

Bletchley Park, which is owned by the government, will shortly be up for sale again. Save for the area immediately adjacent to the house and the lake much has been spoilt by the erection of wartime buildings for use by the secret service.

The house is in use by British Telecom who have done a first class job preserving it. It is to be hoped that when they move out in 1992 who ever takes over and moves in will take similar respect for the property which represents so much of Bletchley's history in the institution of The Leon Family.

It did, of course, become The Bletchley Park Trust which has now striped away the enigma and made Bletchley world famous. If you walk around the mansion today you will see words from In Search Of The Leons used to tell the story of the park.

Finally, taking off my hat of Max Robinson the writer and putting on that of The Geriatric DJ from Radio CRMK I recently went to a disco at Flowers Shared Housing located in part of what was Bletchley Park.  I wonder if one of the dear lady residents who danced with me was none other than Lady Leon ?

Perhaps that is an enigma too far !


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and more.......

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