Harrogate’s secret links to Bletchley Park

Second World War secrets - Knaresborough writer and historian Colin Philpott pictured near where a WW2 food dump was hidden. (1811051AM5)
Second World War secrets - Knaresborough writer and historian Colin Philpott pictured near where a WW2 food dump was hidden. (1811051AM5)

A Knaresborough author’s new book reveals for the first time the Harrogate district’s secret links to Bletchley Park in the Second World War.

Secret Wartime Britain by former BBC programme maker Colin Philpott looks at places which were hidden in Britain during the war.

The cover of Knaresborough writer Colin Philipott's new book Secret Wartime Britain.

The cover of Knaresborough writer Colin Philipott's new book Secret Wartime Britain.

Published by Pen & Sword Books, the fully-illustrated new publication includes factories, command centres, bunkers and retreats, art treasure stores, chemical weapons sites and spying and intelligence bases.

While researching his new book, Colin discovered that RAF Menwith Hill’s antecedants go back to well before the Cold War.

Colin said: “Everybody has heard of Bletchley Park, one of the most iconic secret World War Two locations but Bletchley Park relied on lots of other places round the country - including at Blubberhouses.”

The codes decrypted by codebreakers at the top-secret home in Buckinghamshire proved decisive in turning the tide of the war, especially those generated by the German Enigma and Lorenz machine.

It seems the Harrogate district was home to one of the 42 Y stations, charged with providing the raw material for Bletchley Park.

Colin said: “HMS Forest Moor at Blubberhouse wasn’t far from Menwith Hill and was its forerunner, in fact.

“Blubberhouses’ role was to listen to encoded German signals on wireless radio such as ships. The location of the messages told the Allies almost as much as what messages said. It was very important raw material.”

The head of the BBC in Yorkshire from 1997 to 2004, Philpott’s new book reveals how few people were prosecuted for giving away vital information during the war and also demonstrates how relatively undamaged the vital war infrastructure of Britain was as a result of Luftwaffe bombing.

In terms of local interest, as well as looking at the former Avro aircraft factory at Leeds-Bradford Airport which built Lancaster bombers, the book also reveals that a major food dump was located near Knaresborough.

At a time when Atlantic convoys trying to bring vital supplies to Britain were torpedoed regularly by German U-boats, Churchill ordered huge amounts of food to be stored at sites across the UK.

Colin said: “In total, the contingency plans involved six and a half tons of food located in 43 food dumps.

“There was one just off the A59 on the road to Flaxby with a refigerated store near the old Goldsborough railway station.

“The government tended to site them near railway lines for transport reasons and in areas judged to be less vulnerable to German bombing.

“Without the food dumps there was the risk that we could have been starved out of the war.”

The new book Secret Wartime Britain is the former director of the National Media Museum in Bradford’s third to be published to date, after A Place In History and Relics of the Reich.

Already acclaimed as a riveting and revealing read, Colin says he was surprised how long the echoes of the Second World War have been felt.

Colin said: “The Knaresborough food dump has been largely demolished now but it gained a new life during the Cold War before it was used as commercial premises. You can still see little bits of it now.”

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