History of Station X
So this part of the site will explain some of the background behind a very specific Black Chamber.
Once you’ve read this, you’ll understand how Station X provided the perfect inspiration for the location of the Secret Breakers series!
One of the things I enjoyed most about creating ‘Secret Breakers’ was being able to think and write about such a huge cast of characters.
1938 / 1939
One of the most famous Black Chambers in the world had the code name ‘Station X’ and was based at Bletchley Park Mansion in England.
Bletchley Park Mansion is on a large estate and was owned by the Leon family. In 1938 there were plans to demolish the mansion but Sir Hugh Sinclair who was in charge of MI6 heard about the site and bought it. MI6 is the code name for the British Secret Intelligence Service.It’s the organisation secret agents work for!
Sinclair knew Bletchley Park Mansion would make a great Black Chamber. To stop people being suspicious about lots of people turning up at Bletchley, the first government visitors there called themselves ‘Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party.’ They pretended they had just come on holiday!
“… perfect location for the ‘Government Code and Cypher School”
Origins of the Name
The name Station X came from the secret radio intercept station that was set up in the roof of the mansion. It was give the name X as it was the tenth station to be set up…and X means ten in Roman Numerals…but of course Station X is a perfect code cracking name and so you will often hear the term used to refer to the whole of Bletchley Park!
The Official Secrets Act
If you were recruited to work at Station X you had to sign the Official Secrets Act and promise never to tell anyone about your work there.
Most people who were recruited had no idea initially what they were being asked to do. Many professors from Universities were asked to join, as well as reliable and trustworthy people to make sure all the paperwork was done correctly.
Cryptanalysts (or people who could break codes) were selected for various intellectual achievements. They all had different ‘secret breaking powers’. Some were very good at languages; some were chess champions or great mathematicians and some were very quick at solving crossword puzzles.
The Selection Process
In an attempt to select people, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ newspaper set crosswords and asked people to try and solve them in under 12 minutes as a sort of competition. It was really a test and afterwards people who had entered the competition were contacted secretly by the Black Chamber and asked if they would be prepared to undertake ‘a particular type of work as a contribution to the war effort’.
Over 12,000 people worked at Station X on and off during the war. All of them promised to keep their work secret. If they were asked what they did during the war, many said they served on a ship called HMS Pembroke. This was a ‘cover story’ and it stopped people asking questions and meant they didn’t have to tell anyone about their job at Bletchley.
“They weren’t allowed to tell anyone about their job at Bletchley”
Among the famous mathematicians and cryptanalysts working there, the most influential and the best-known in later years was a man called Alan Turing. He is sometimes called ‘The Father of Computer Science’ as his work led to the invention of the computer.
1974: The Silence is Broken
Code-crackers spent their time intercepting and trying to break enemy codes sent during the war. Their most famous work involved the Enigma Machines and the Ultra Codes but no one really knew about what happened at Station X until 1974 when one of the workers wrote a book about his time there.
Lots of people were shocked he’d broken his silence and we still don’t know all the secrets of Station X but we do know that breaking the enemy codes shortened the war and saved many lives!
“… breaking the enemy codes shortened the war and saved many lives!”
At the end of the war, much of the equipment used and its blueprints were destroyed. The Post Office used part of the site and the building had many owners over the years. If fell into quite a state of disrepair and in the 1990s it looked like it would be demolished. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed to try and preserve the site and they set up a museum devoted to code-cracking.
In October 2005, American billionaire Sidney Frank donated £500,000 to Bletchley Park Trust to fund a new Science Centre dedicated to Alan Turing.
In 2011 both Google and the National Lottery Fund became involved in helping preserve Bletchley’s history. You can actually visit Bletchley Park site and museum.