The Bletchley Park Challenge


All visitors to Bletchley Park are offered ‘wands’. These are digital audio guides that visitors carry around the park with them. The only controls are a numeric keypad and standard playback buttons. As the visitor proceeds around the park, signs at various points of interest indicate a number to enter on the keypad. This starts playback of a pre-recorded talk relevant to where the visitor is standard. For example, entering 001 will give you an overview of the Mansion.

Although maybe not as entertaining as a guided tour, wands do allow visitors to set their own pace around the park and also allow them to do so in private rather than as part of a larger group. This can be additionally useful for those with hearing difficulties or mobility problems.


The Problem

Bletchley Park owns some 600 wands. They rely on rechargeable batteries that provide the power for all operations that are rated for about 1000 cycles and most have reached the end of their useful life. These are not standard packs and the company that makes the wands has gone out of business. A few months ago we were down to less than 100 operational wands. Bletchley Park can receive 500-700 visitors on a normal ‘non-event’ day.

So, over the past few months volunteers who know the hot end of a soldering iron from the other have been busy in their sheds re-fitting the wands with standard battery packs. This has been very successful but many wands are failing because of more complex faults and over time, the amount of wands available will be reduced. The cost of replacing the entire ‘fleet’ makes it a non-starter.

How You Can Help

One way of reducing pressure on the usage of wands is to offer an alternative that makes use of the visitor’s smartphone. As a wand is effectively just a collection of audio samples and a keypad, everything needed to recreate that experience is available on just about any phone on the market today.

So, could we come up with an effective wand ‘alternative’ using, say, iOS and/or Android? We could then offer the resulting app as a free download that the visitor could acquire before arriving at the park or upon arrival.

But why stop with an audio tour? My perfect ‘Bletchley Park’ app would include (but certainly not be limited to) the following:

  • An interactive map with geolocation. The visitor can see where they are and receive guidance information to certain ‘landmarks’ (e.g. B-Block, Churchill Exhibit, Hut )
  • Photos and even short video clips to accompany the audio tour.
  • Use of geolocation so the app knows where you are and selects the appropriate audio clip (or clips) for you.
  • What’s On’ guide for the day, informing customers about what exhibitions are open, closures, events and tour/talk times.
  • Augmented Reality. The ability for users to hold up their cameras and see war-time images of certain areas overlaid.
  • Text to accompany the audio tour with ‘further reading’ links for detailed information.
  • Ability to push ‘offers’ and tour start-time reminders as notifications.
  • Pre-visit information (e.g. ‘how to find us’, entry prices)
  • Purchase tickets on-line
  • Donations button!
  • An Enigma simulator would be an obvious thing and certainly nice to have. However, it’s only fair to point out that the MyEnigma simulator on the Apple iOS App Store is superb.
  • Many things I probably haven’t thought of.

PJ Evans

Tour Guide at Bletchley Park




(courtesy of the Good for Nothing Bletchley Park Challenge)

Tony Sale’s in-depth technical info on Enigma, Tunny and Collosus:

Lots of rich content on Audioboo

Pics and content from 2010 reunion

Bletchley Park homepage:

History photos

Save Bletchley Park petition:

The National Museum of Computing

Sue Black’s homepage:

Save Bletchley Park:

Our Secret War

Alan Turing Year 2012:

Photos from 2010 Reunion

Content from 2010 Reunion

Video – Women of Station X

Can Twitter save Bletchley Park?

Sue Black’s posterous

Reunion info

Flickr group for Bletchley Park

Flickr group for National Museum of Computing