£5000 donation made to Athelstan Museum thanks to famous codebreaker Alan Turing
Malmesbury Museum Gets Codebreaking Donation
The family behind a well-known Wiltshire company has donated £5,000 to the Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury. The donation came after they auctioned a rare private letter from codebreaker Alan Turing to the founder of the Linolite brand.
Alan Turing, famous for cracking the Enigma code during WWII, wrote the letter to Linolite founder, Alfred William Beutell.
In 2019, Athelstan Museum Council commissioned volunteer Bill Reed to collect interviews from past employees for the Museum’s ‘Malmesbury Voices‘ collection. This resulted in around fifty recordings. From these recordings, Mr Reed compiled a book, ‘Linolite – The Inside Story’.
In the book’s foreword, Peter Beuttell, Alfred’s grandson, wrote: ‘This book reminds me why I’ve felt, for several decades, that my family owed the people of Malmesbury a great debt of gratitude.’ That gratitude now takes a tangible form in a donation to the museum.
Peter said that the donation was partly ‘in recognition of the work by Bill, Barry Dent and Sarah Pettigrew on Linolite The Inside Story.’
Linolite was a well known Wiltshire employer for over forty years. The company first came to Wiltshire in 1941 when the Ministry of Aircraft Production asked the the founder, Alfred, to leave their London Pimlico site for somewhere safer. They were one of the few producers of an important part of the electrical wiring in wartime bombers.
Inventor Alfred (1880 – 1965) became quite wealthy at a young age after selling the patent to his invention, the carbon filament strip lamp, the first of its kind – to Edison and Swan. An example, lent by Peter, is currently on display in the museum.
Alfred’s son Victor went to school in Sherborne with Alan Turing. Due to shared personal tragedies, he became a friend of the family. He often stayed at their home, especially during school holidays.
Around 1910, Alfred spent several months in Monte Carlo, where he developed a ‘complicated and successful gambling system’. Alfred spent a further month there, living on the profits.
Much later he discussed this system with Alan Turing, by then an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge, during a visit to the family home in Norbury in South London. Turing afterwards wrote an assessment, saying the system wasn’t sustainable long term. Further he inferred the chance that the winnings were more luck than judgment. Turing’s handwritten reply remained in the family for many years before going to auction at Bonham’s earlier this year.
The Wiltshire company employed at one point over 150 people. First at the Mill Works site in Burnivale. And then, from 1985, in a purpose-built factory on Tetbury Hill, which now forms part of the Dyson complex.
Sharon Nolan, chairman of the Athelstan Museum Council, said: ‘We’re so grateful to Peter and his family for this generous donation. We don’t charge an entrance fee and rely on donations, subscriptions and grants.
‘We’d also like to thank Bill for his hard work as a volunteer to make the people of Malmesbury, and their voices, part of our living history.’
The Athelstan Museum showcases the history of the ancient town. Recently it’s become home to the ‘Wiltshire ‘Turner’ of Malmesbury Abbey. The museum acquired that painting with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Arts Council.
Two books support the Linolite collection at the museum. They are:
1. Linolite – The Inside Story by Bill Reed – available from the museum shop for £10.00 and
2. The Man Who Made Linolite – a biography of AW Beuttell by Kenneth Hudson.
Copies signed by Peter Beuttell are also available from the museum shop for £10. To find out more visit https://www.athelstanmuseum.org.uk