Skip to main content

Google Garden Party bags cash for Bletchley Park

Google's partnership with Bletchley Park, which began when it donated $100,000 towards the purchase of offprints of noted polymath and former codebreaker Alan Turing at auction for display in the museum, entered a new phase this week with the launch of the Google Garden Party.

Designed to raise cash for the restoration of Block C, one of the Park's many historical buildings in dire need of repair, the party combined forties classics like Pine Cone Birds and period-accurate makeovers with a high-profile auction and possibly the most impressive tombola stall in history.

Organised by Google following the advertising giant's donation towards the purchase of Turing's papers, collected by his friend and colleague Max Newman, the Garden Party took place in the Park's massive grounds on Thursday.

While the weather may have scared off a few of those not quite feeling the Dunkirk spirit, a little rain didn't dampen attendees' enthusiasm: a large marquee, erected specially for the event, was packed to capacity with well-wishers, park fans, veterans, and representatives from a variety of high-tech companies who understand the debt of gratitude the world has to the work of the Park's many wartime staff.

The Park was home to the Codebreakers, a group of people who worked in absolute secrecy to decode Axis military transmissions. In doing so, they shortened the war by a number of years and - almost incidentally - invented many of the technologies which have grown into modern computing.

Sadly, the secrecy with which the government treated the site didn't lend itself to conservation, and, while in recent years the Park has enjoyed a higher profile, it still struggles to find the funding it needs to maintain its historical buildings and restore those that are in danger of falling into disrepair.

"We've got a lot of investment to make," explained Simon Greenish, director of the Bletchley Park Trust, at the opening ceremony. "Something of the order of £10-14 million. Sadly, we're a little bit less than £2 million short." It's in the shadow of this shortfall that the Garden Party arose. "This extraordinary journey started early last year thanks to Simon Meacham," Google's Peter Barron explained, referring to the Googler who brought the need to raise money for the purchase of the Turing/Newman papers to his attention.

"Why is Google so interested in Bletchley Park? All of us have heroes, and at Google our heroes are Alan Turing, and the people who worked here during the war. It's no exaggeration to say that without Turing, Google wouldn't exist in the form in which it exists today. We're aiming to raise £2 million, and if we can do that by Monday, great," Barron joked, referring to the notoriously tight deadline under which the original fundraising effort for the Turing/Newman papers took place.

The fundraising took two forms: the sale of tickets, which could be redeemed for food, drink, or entry into various competitions, and an auction which took place in the early evening. Ticket sales were strong, thanks largely to a goodly supply of alcohol and some impressive Google-themed prizes on the tombola stand which included a Nexus S Android-based smartphone.

The auction, led by Christie's head auctioneer Hugh Edmeades, saw a massive turnout, and while bidding was initially slow on lots including a framed slate from the roof of the Bletchley Park Mansion and tickets to a rugby tournament in 2012, things picked up nicely when some true rarities appeared. A limited edition golden Fabergé egg, designed by Sarah Fabergé to celebrate the work carried out at Bletchley Park, was sold to Bletchley Park Trust chair Sir John Scarlett for £2,300, while Peter Barron's young son got a taste of the auction house when he bid £550 for an original cartoon by The Daily Telegraph's Matt - a sum his father was only too happy to hand over.

By the time the partygoers, stuffed on sandwiches and cake and reeling slightly from Pimms and champagne, wandered off into the rain, the event had raised £10,562 in total, with that figure expected to rise as attendees who made promises of cash at the Pledge Table are contacted to cough up the readies. While that's a small drop in the £2 million ocean, it's a promising start to what could prove to be an excellent partnership between the Trust and Google.