Brackley and beyond
29 Jan 2012
|So here we are, a New Year at last, only 11 hours behind home. It was strange having to wait knowing that everyone was partying already.
Cynthea is to stay on at Brackley until mid-March, then we will go back to Scotland. Tony is not sure where he will end up, but for the first 10 days he is in Brackley helping Cynthea as her relief carers are not coming in daily until the 9th.
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So, what did we do during January, 2012?
We went on a few trips as Cynthea's client likes to go for a ride in the car. We intended to drive back to Stratford-upon-Avon, and that is where we were headed, but a look at the map on the way showed us we were not to far away from a wee village called Chaddesley Corbett, in Worcestershire. We are not sure if any relatives hailed from there, but we know there were Corbetts there, so we change plans and head there instead.
It is a pretty wee village, a lot of Tudor style buildings and a huge Norman church. The drive through the village doesn’t take long! We call into The Swan for a beer and feed, but they don’t take cards, cash only like so many other pubs, and only a couple of people are in the restaurant area. So we head across the road to the general store, come post office, come tearooms. We walk through the store, hang a left at the Post Office at the back, and go through to the café, it is packed, but there is a table for us. The menu is very reasonably priced, the food is wonderful, and they take card payments.
We cannot do anything quickly when Michael is with us, so it is a leisurely lunch, then we hunt for souvenirs. The only things with Chaddesley Corbett on it are some postcards and Christmas cards, so we get a few to send (they will be able to be trotted out in another 11 ½ months).
At the churchyard we find the Corbett plot, and take down what details we can. Some of the stones are so weathered they are no longer legible. Tony takes some photos, and by enhancing the images can get a few more details. The camera battery decides to give up and Tony is not impressed, he was sure it had a full charge when we left home (and the spare battery has yet to arrive). At least the camera on the phone is a good one.
There is a big problem here with moles, a gross thought that, moles digging about in a graveyard! It is getting late and starting to rain by the time we leave just after three, and we didn’t get into the church to see if they had more records. We will look online and see what other records are about and try and establish if there is a family link or not.
By the time we get to Stratford-upon-Avon it is nearly 4pm and not far off dark. We will not be able to visit any Shakespeare houses today now, another day for that. It is too cold for Michael to be outside, so Tony takes a wander on his own to get a few photos and hopes the light is good enough. It is very pretty as the Christmas lights are still up.
We head back as we have a function at the retirement complex tonight, Cynthea says they are a good night, there will be supper and a few drinks, and a bit of dancing. Someone has come along to play the piano, and keeps everyone interested with quizzes on the music. Tony and Cynthea even know a few answers (the stuff from the 70’s and 80’s).
On Sunday we go out for a drive to drop some papers off with Andrew, Michael’s son in Buckingham a few miles away. He wont be home, so we take our time and end up at Silverstone race track. There is not anything on, but we see there is a visitor centre and decide to see if it is open. The sign on the door says the shop and café are open until 4pm, but everything is locked up, it is just after 3… but staff come and let us in. They have been open since 10am and we are the first (and only) customers of the day. We have a drink and cake and buy a souvenir, heading off to Buckingham soon after 4. Andrew arrives home just as we get there, so we stay for a coffee before heading back home.
Cynthea has to get a crown on her tooth, and they need to measure it up. Our next trip is to Banbury so she can go to the dentist. Tony starts looking around the town, there might be some work about, but there is not a lot going. A couple of places he looks at the staff are parked up doing bugger all, so they don’t look like they are hiring. There is an office recruitment place in town, so that might be an option. The appointment is over quickly, but Cynthea has trouble talking because they gave her an injection and a temporary filling – a very temporary filling, it fell out the next day! Ruth arrived just after 2pm to relieve Cynthea for two hours, so we head out for a walk. We go to the post office and then wander around a huge antique centre. Many different traders have displays, some of the prices are quite astonishing. There are some really beautiful pieces, if only… but there is no room in the backpack, and the price is a tad out of our range.
The relief carer comes in for four hours on a Tuesday, Ruth was here again and gave us some suggestions of where to visit (we had wanted to visit Blenheim Palace but it is closed for the winter). We head off to Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, home of the “codebreakers” in World War II. It is full of history, and we only have two hours to spend here. A £12 ticket gives us admission for a year, there is too much to see in just one day, besides, not every exhibit is open every day. We visited the park a couple of times, and learnt about how some 8500 staff worked here, and that the work was so secret only a very few actually knew all of what was going on.
We get to see an amazing exhibition on Winston Churchill, on loan from a private collector, it fills a huge room. We find out that Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace.
Bletchley Park is home to a tremendous amount of history, so sit yourself down for a lesson. Most famous, and most secret for many years, is the code breaking work during World War II.
The Enigma cypher was the backbone of German military and intelligence communications. Invented in 1918, it was initially designed to secure banking communications, but achieved little success in that sphere. The German military, however, were quick to see its potential.
They thought it to be unbreakable, and not without good reason. Enigma's complexity was bewildering. The odds against anyone who did not know the settings being able to break Enigma were a staggering 150 million million million to one. The Enigma machine is an electro-mechanical device that relies on a series of rotating 'wheels' to scramble plain text messages into incoherent cyphertext. The machine's variable elements can be set in many billions of combinations, and each one will generate a completely different cyphertext message. If you know how the machine has been set up, you can type the cyphertext back in and it will unscramble the message.
The Poles had broken Enigma in 1932, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials with the German Army. They even managed to reconstruct a machine. At that time, the cypher altered only once every few months. With the advent of war, it changed at least once a day, effectively locking the Poles out. But in July 1939, they had passed on their knowledge to the British and the French. This enabled the codebreakers to make critical progress in working out the order in which the keys were attached to the electrical circuits, a task that had been impossible without an Enigma machine in front of them.
Armed with this knowledge, the codebreakers were then able to exploit a chink in Enigma's armour. A fundamental design flaw meant that no letter could ever be encrypted as itself; an A in the original message, for example, could never appear as an A in the code. This gave the codebreakers a toehold. Errors in messages sent by tired, stressed or lazy German operators also gave clues. In January 1940 came the first break into Enigma.
Raw material came from the 'Y' Stations: a web of wireless intercept stations dotted around Britain, one of which was code named “”Dunedin”, and in a number of countries overseas. These stations listened in to the enemy's radio messages and sent them to Bletchley Park to be decoded and analysed.
To speed up the codebreaking process, the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing developed an idea originally proposed by Polish cryptanalysts. The result was the Bombe: an electro-mechanical machine that greatly reduced the odds, and thereby the time required, to break the daily-changing Enigma keys.
A much more complex cipher machine, the Lorenz, required an even bigger machine to break the code. Tommy Flowers went on to design and build ‘Colossus’, a much faster and reliable machine that used 1,500 thermionic valves (vacuum tubes). The first Colossus machine arrived at Bletchley in December 1943. This was the world’s first practical electronic digital information processing machine - a forerunner of today’s computers.
With the declaration of peace, the frenzy of codebreaking activity ceased. On Churchill's orders, every scrap of 'incriminating' evidence was destroyed. As the Second World War gave way to the Cold War, it was vital that Britain's former ally, the USSR, should learn nothing of Bletchley Park's wartime achievements.
The thousands who had worked there departed. Some continued to use their remarkable expertise to break other countries' ciphers, working under a new name: the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
The site became home to a variety of training schools: for teachers, Post Office workers, air traffic control system engineers, and members of GCHQ. In 1987, after a fifty-year association with British Intelligence, Bletchley Park was finally decommissioned.
For decades, the codebreakers would remain silent about their achievements. It was not until the wartime information was declassified in the mid-1970s that the truth would begin to emerge. And the impact of those achievements on the outcome of the war and subsequent developments in communications still has not been recognised fully. The work of the people based here saved countless lives and is thought to have shortened the war by at least two years.
Stratford-upon-Avon – return visit, spectacular winter day, cold as a frog’s tit, and not a cloud in the sky. Frost on the car at 11am when we left, and frost on the ground all day in places. Tony had a quick wander around the Avon to get some more photos, though photos of Holy Trinity are not that good as the sun is too far south and Tony is shooting into the sun. Cynthea asked when would be a better time to visit, Tony reckoned June.
It was a short drive to Shotterly, the site of Anne Hathaways cottage. Well it should have been a short drive, but the signposting was not that great, so we had a bit of a detour! The “cottage” is a spacious twelve-roomed farmhouse, with several bedrooms, set in extensive gardens. The earliest part of the house was built prior to the 15th century. The cottage was known as Newlands Farm in Shakespeare's day and had more than 90 acres (36 hectares) of land attached to it. It is worth getting a 12 month pass to visit the five properties operated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this is somewhere we cannot visit properly in one short visit. There is an extensive garden and woodland to explore.
It is not possible to visit the place where Anne Hathaway married William Shakespeare - 5 churches claim the wedding!
We have a late lunch, and while Cynthea and Micheal are finishing theirs Tony returns to Shakespeare's birth place for a more leisurely look at the building. On the first visit we were told no photography at all, but today there is no such instruction and everyone has their cameras out, so Tony takes a few snaps as well (making sure the flash is off, of course).
The beds, like all beds of this era, are short, people slept sitting up. Curtains were pulled around the bed to keep the warmth in, and possibly also for privacy as children also slept in the same room, either in cots or on a pull out trundler beside the bed. Glass windows were rarely used because of the expense, indeed such was the cost houses were often sold without glass, and any installed was removed and taken to the new home.
When Shakespeare’s father died William was living back in Stratford, and had another home. As he had no need of the family home he rented it to a friend, who converted the home to a tavern.
Nearly the end of the month, and Tony is still in Brackley. He had thought work had been lined up at a hotel in Snowdonia, Wales. However he never heard back after a series of emails, so that is not going to be happening now.
Tony is sending time pottering about the house, doing little fix up jobs and the garden, and giving Cynthea a bit of a break. When the weather is "nice" there are a couple of nice walks to go on. We are both spending time on our family trees.