Alan Turing on the new £50 note
16 July 2019
The Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, announced that former Hanslope Park resident Alan Turing will appear on the new £50 polymer note. The pioneering computer scientist, mathematician and war hero was chosen from a short list of 12, following over 200,000 nominations.
Turing transferred to Hanslope Park from Bletchley Park in 1944, after successfully cracking the Enigma Code used by German forces. Today, Hanslope Park is the home of FCDO Services, but during the Second World War it intercepted enemy transmissions from occupied Europe. Turing developed new secret technology there, designed to help the war effort.
Turing, together with engineer Donald Bailey, designed a portable secure voice communications machine codenamed ‘Delilah’. The Germans had started monitoring transmissions across the Atlantic and so Turing and Bailey developed a speech enciphering programme. In the end the Government did not adopt the Delilah machines they invented for practical use, partly because it came too late in the War to make a difference militarily.
One of Turing’s most notable achievements at the Park was the development of ideas that led to his design of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) – one of the world’s first detailed computer designs. Turing hid himself away in one of the newly constructed fabricated huts on site and is reported to have told his assistant that he was “building a brain”. At the end of the War he took his designs for ACE to the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, and produced the ACE computer.
Recognition for Turing’s achievements sadly did not come in his lifetime, because he lived in a time when homosexuality was illegal. In 1952 he was convicted of ‘acts of gross indecency’. Today, Turing’s work is fully appreciated and he is seen as key in the creation of the modern computer.
The legacy of Turing’s work at Hanslope Park is clearly evident on the site today. Secure voice machines are still developed here, and allow for secure conversations between embassies and government departments around the world. Similarly, a significant part of the work at Hanslope relies on Turing’s development of computers: digital security. As Mark Carney said: ‘Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand’.