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Is Alan Turing Now Guildford’s Best Known Briton?

Published on: 28 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 30 Mar, 2021

By David Rose

The Bank of England’s announcement of the design for its new £50 banknote featuring computer scientist and wartime codebreaker Alan Turing must add more credence to proclaiming him Guildford’s most famous person in the nation’s history.

The new £50 banknote featuring Alan Turing.

That title has generally been bestowed on George Abbot (1562-1633), the son of a Guildford clothworker who was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611. His legacy to Guildford is the almshouse he funded, The Hospital of The Blessed Trinity, more commonly known as Abbot’s Hospital.

Alan Turing’s rise to importance in the UK’s history and his strong connections in Guildford continues to gather pace. As Paul Backhouse writes in his book, Alan Turing Guildford’s best kept secret: “Within twenty years of his death Alan Turing was largely forgotten except by a small circle of mathematicians and within his own family. Gradually though, as knowledge of his code-breaking achievements at Bletchley Park became public, Alan’s fame started to grow. His ideas that directly lead to the digital revolution are now also recognised world-wide.”

Indeed, in 1999 Time magazine named Alan Turing as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century, stating: “The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.”

Alan Turing pictured in the garden of his parents’ house in Ennismore Avenue, Guildford. From the book Alan Turing Guildford’s best kept secret by Paul Backhouse.

Alan Turing was born in Maida Vale, London, while as Paul Backhouse writes in his book: “Guildford is the family home of Alan Turing, where he lived with his parents and older brother John. He grew up in the town and spent his school holidays and university vacations here.”

There is now, appropriately, plenty of information to read about Alan Turing on the internet. And of his Guildford connections these previous stories on The Guildford Dragon NEWS are recommended reading…..

BBC Two Viewers Vote Alan Turing Ultimate Icon Of The 20th Century

Review: New Publication Tells The Story Of Alan Turing And His Guildford Roots

New Podcast: Alan Turing – Five Guildford Moments

The new banknote featuring Alan Turing is said be the most ‘secure’ of all bank notes. It include a series of puzzles known as the ‘Turing Challenge’, designed by GCHQ codebreakers. The puzzles increase in complexity and lead to a single answer, evidently solvable in around seven hours by experienced codebreakers.

The image of Alan Turing on the banknote is reproduced from a photograph taken by the firm Elliott & Fry in 1951.

The design also features drawings of Alan Turing’s early type of computer, the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) Pilot, and the British Bombe, a machine invented by him to break the German Enigma machine.

It will also feature a quote from him that he gave to The Times in 1949: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Author Paul Backhouse, who also leads walks based on Alan Turing and his family’s time in Guildford, said: “When we launched Turing Encounter Walks in 2015, I wondered if interest would wane once publicity surrounding The Imitation Game movie stopped. However, the opposite has occurred with places on our free walks filled up in advance.

“Appearing on the new £50 note is the latest national recognition for Alan Turing. There has also been launch of the new Turing scheme enabling UK students to learn and work abroad (post-Brexit). In 2019, BBC 2 viewers voted Alan Turing as the Greatest Person of the 20th Century.

“Surely it is time for our borough to publicly celebrate Turing’s links with Guildford in some way in the town centre for local people and visitors alike to enjoy. Perhaps there might be an opportunity with the proposed St Mary’s Wharf development? ”

Jeff Thompson, who co-ordinates the publicity for the Guildford Town Gudes, added: “Genius is rare and is so often used in a cavalier manner that debases it. Alan Turing was a genius in the true understanding of the word.

“Turing’s talent travelled – it took him to Cambridge, Princeton, Washington, Bletchley and Manchester but his family home was Guildford and to which he returned frequently.

“It was here his parents raised their sons, John and Alan and in Jenner Road where John began his own family. It was to South Hill that Alan returned to tell his mother of ‘troubles’ in Manchester. The Turing family had ties with the town for close on 50 years. How apt that the £50 note should now feature his portrait.

“His work on machine learning, computability technologies and artificial intelligence has revolutionised modern living – even the mobile ‘phone which invited my contribution to The Dragon – can be traced directly to Alan Turing. His wartime research, breaking Nazi codes (which many suggest shortened World War Two) saved thousands of lives by shortening the conflict.

“Since those times many have had a profound influence on our lives but few have shared such responsibility in such terrible and urgent circumstance. Alan Turing has to be Guildford’s most important person in our nation’s modern history.”

Dates for the Alan Turing guided walks for 2021 are: Sunday, August 8 at 2pm. Thursday, August 19, at 6 pm. Tuesday, August 24 at 2pm. More details about the walks here.


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Responses to Is Alan Turing Now Guildford’s Best Known Briton?

  1. Mat Huth Reply

    March 28, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    Lewis Carroll is the best one.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    March 28, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    Or P G Wodehouse?

  3. John Perkins Reply

    March 28, 2021 at 9:06 pm

    Best known is misleading.
    Best known or most successful?
    I have no doubt that he would have been the best of both, had he lived.

  4. Jan Messinger Reply

    March 28, 2021 at 11:04 pm

    I would agree. Lets hope something in the future recognises the fact he clearly had such strong connections with Guildford.

    Perhaps it should be something computer based as we also have links to computer gaming in Guildford.

    • Harry Eve Reply

      March 29, 2021 at 8:02 pm

      Another computer link – Ada Lovelace of East Horsley.

      • Bill Stokoe Reply

        April 7, 2021 at 3:03 pm

        As a former chairman of Abbot’s Hospital, I have to vote for George Abbot. Born in Guildford, became Archbishop of Canterbury (and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University on the way) – then one of the top jobs in the country.

        He helped bring the King James Bible to life. and wrote a best-selling geography text book describing the world as it was then known, and reprinted many times.

        He left behind one of Guildford’s heritage treasures, his ‘hospital’ [almshouse] at the top of the High Street.

        It was, and remains, a superb example of the craftsmanship of its time, providing a home for the needy of the town since 1622. The hospital, as the charity he founded under royal charter and endowed, continues that service to this day, uninterrupted for 400 years.

  5. John Perkins Reply

    March 29, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”.

    Such a wonderful quote and completely accurate. By 1952 he had resolved the mechanism by which animals get their patterns: stripes and spots etc. At the time many biologists thought it unknowable.

    He was a bona fide genius and would have gone on to even greater things had he not been unlucky enough to encounter a reactionary and stupid judge.

  6. David Roberts Reply

    March 30, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Was Turing greater than William of Occam [Ockham]?

  7. Louise Jones Reply

    April 8, 2021 at 10:23 am

    What about Nobel prize and Booker prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro?

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