Bletchley Park exterior
Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, where Alan Turing's huge Colossus computers - the world's first electronic computers - deciphered Nazi High Command strategic messages © Shaun Armstrong
Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, where Alan Turing's huge Colossus computers - the world's first electronic computers - deciphered Nazi High Command strategic messages © Shaun Armstrong

100 Places: Science & Discovery

Our Science & Discovery category judge, Professor Lord Robert Winston, has chosen the following ten places (from a long list of public nominations) to tell the story of science and discovery in England. Listen to our podcast series or read more to find out why.

A History of England in 100 Places is sponsored by Ecclesiastical

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1. Astronomy, codebreaking & stainless steel

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2. Cholera, smallpox & immunology

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3. DNA, Rosalind Franklin & photo 51

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4. Radio telescopes & interferometry

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Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

Commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, was the first state-funded scientific institution in Britain. Over the course of more than 300 years, the Observatory has played a fundamental role in the history of navigation, the progress of astronomy, the modern measurement of time, and our understanding of the universe itself.

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Brown Firth Research Laboratory, Sheffield

This is the site where Harry Brearley accidentally made stainless steel in 1913 when he incorporated chromium into steel. The invention of a non-corroding steel revolutionised manufacturing worldwide: not only is stainless steel cutlery used by people around the world every day, but Brearley’s invention was also important for how buildings were constructed. The metal trade has been alive in Sheffield since the Middle Ages and by the 18th century, Sheffield was the nation’s principal producer of different types of steel. The invention of stainless steel, a lucky accident, remains perhaps Sheffield’s most important contribution to the industry.

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Former ICI laboratory, Widnes, Cheshire

It was in this small laboratory that a big step in modern medicine and a lifesaving invention was made. In 1951 the chemist, Dr Charles Suckling, first synthesised the non-flammable inhalation anaesthetic called 'halothane' which revolutionised surgery and the pharmacology of anaesthetics. Phased out for use on humans in the 1980s, its invention and use represents the importance of the chemical industry to England’s history, which is often forgotten.

Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Shortly before the Second World War began, the Government Code and Cipher School, in need of a safe and secret location away from London, moved to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. Large, plain huts were built in the grounds and it was here that the Bombe machine, designed by Alan Turing, helped break the Enigma code. This was also where Tommy Flowers created the semi-programmable electronic machine Colossus, the world's first electronic computers. The crucial work of the thousands of people who worked in the wider Bletchley organisation, 75% of whom were women, helped shorten the war by an estimated two to four years and saved countless lives. Block H is known as the birthplace of modern computing because large scale electronic information processing began here.

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Ouse Washes, March, Cambridgeshire

This huge water channel was cut in the 1630s to drain the fenlands and make a temporary floodwater storage area between Earith in Cambridgeshire and Denver in Norfolk. It is one of the most important, largest and oldest drainage engineering structures in the country. It was created by Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden, whose ingenuity enabled the creation of the 'food basket' of the UK, because it protects approximately 29,000 hectares of agricultural land from flooding. This mid-17th-century feat of engineering is striking in its beauty when flooded between the banks built to hold the water and is a unique habitat for all kinds of animals, making it a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Calder Hall, Sellafield, Cumbria

Opened by Her Majesty The Queen in October 1956, Calder Hall was the world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity on a commercial scale. It is not widely known that the primary function of Calder Hall was to create weapons-grade plutonium, although those activities ended in the 1990s. Initially designed to last for 20 years, Calder Hall ceased generating electricity in 2003, almost 47 years after its inauguration.

The Jenner Hut, Berkeley, Gloucestershire

Dr Edward Jenner performed early experiments with vaccination in a humble hut in the grounds of his house in Gloucestershire, where he created a vaccination for smallpox. Smallpox killed more than 400,000 people each year in 18th century Europe and was known as the “speckled monster”. Thirty years after Jenner’s death, smallpox vaccinations were made compulsory but perhaps his most important legacy was his dedication to sharing the importance of vaccines to human health. Such experiments with vaccinations and the subsequent start of the concept of immunology have saved and continue to save millions of lives across the world.

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Water pump on the corner of Broadwick & Poland streets, Soho, London

In 1854, a severe outbreak of cholera in London killed 616 people and thousands of people had died in previous outbreaks. At the time, nobody knew for sure how diseases like this one were spread but physician John Snow thought cholera could be water-borne. He studied the causes and traced the outbreak to the contaminated water from this single pump in Soho. His findings led to fundamental changes in London’s water and waste systems, and then those of other cities around the world, resulting in massive improvements to public health on a global scale.

Former MRC Biophysics Unit, King's College London

In May 1952, at King’s College London’s Strand campus, Photo 51 (an X-ray diffraction image of DNA) was taken by chemist and research associate, Rosalind Franklin. The photograph confirmed theories that DNA had a double helical structure and was used by James Watson and Francis Crick to correctly model DNA in the double helix form. Franklin died of cancer in 1958 and missed out on the Nobel prize, which her peers swept up in 1962. Although in the shadow of Watson and Crick’s work for many years, Franklin and her team’s contribution to the findings was incredibly important.

Jodrell Bank Observatory, Macclesfield, Cheshire

Jodrell Bank Observatory is the only site in the world that can chart the entire history of radio astronomy and it remains a place of live scientific research. It has been at the heart of ground-breaking discoveries for more than 70 years and is home to the Lovell Telescope, a near 90-metre-tall structure that stands as an icon of British science and engineering. Also a site of cultural significance, it has played host to live music acts, inspired artists and featured in film, television, and literature - seamlessly bridging the gap between science and the arts. The Lovell Telescope was the first in the world to be controlled by a digital computer and was the largest steerable telescope upon its completion in 1957.  It was able to track Sputnik on its launch in 1957. Other space-age triumphs included being asked by the Soviet Union to track the moon spaceship Luna 9 which sent the first images from the surface of the moon.

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