Alan Turing’s Treasure – the Enigma

9th April 2016 — 24 Comments

title1In a UK Searcher magazine of 1993, I stumbled across a story penned by detectorist Colin Hennell about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and wartime code-breaker. Turing, the father of the computing age, is reputed to have also buried silver bars! This is how it happened.

Turing Banner

Colin said that Turing took the view, just before the Second World War, that if Britain were to come under German occupation, bank accounts would be useless and his savings would at best be frozen, at worst taken over by the occupying forces. Either way, he calculated, he would lose just about everything he had.

1- Stephen Kettle’s slate statue of mathematician Alan Turing at Bletchley Park museum - © John Winter copy

Stephen Kettle’s magnificent slate statue of mathematician Alan Turing at Bletchley Park museum – picture by John Winter

So, he drew all of his savings out of the bank and bought two very large ingots of silver bullion to be hidden away until it was safe again to cash them in … except that he lost track of the time and place where they were buried. He even built his own metal detector, but failed to find the spot.

This is a fascinating tale, full of detail like, “Turing acquired an ancient perambulator with which he planned to transport the ingots without the help of another human. It is recorded that he slipped a disc in the process of loading the pram …” Of course he had made a cryptic plan of the position and only he had the key to deciphering the coded details.

I find it ironic that a guy who had played a vital role in deciphering the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine was unable to crack his own code. The treasure remains hidden to this day. Turing died at the end of the war, committing suicide at an early age.

Colin did investigate, but the site was a long way from where he lived and the responsibilities of a growing family meant that he was unable to retrace Turing’s steps.

Like all good treasure stories there is a map. All I can say is if you are in a part of the Bletchley/ Milton Keynes area that seems to match up with the map, and you come across a deep signal … then DIG! What’s that? You don’t have the map. No problem. Here’s a copy as printed in the February 1993 edition of The Searcher magazine. But beware … the printed map says that it is in Cambridgeshire, but I know different. The place is in Buckinghamshire … perhaps Colin was trying to put any treasure hunter off the scent! You can still locate this site on Google Earth. Shenley Wood still exists, but now surrounded on all sides by new roads and housing developments.

Map

Should you dig that deep signal? Look around: if you’re in a bit of Buckinghamshire that seems to match Colin’s map … then DIG! 3D picture courtesy of Google Earth. Click to enlarge.

Colin’s Reply

“I had to chuckle when I read John Winter’s account referring to my article about Alan Turing’s treasure. Since that time my children have reached adulthood and fled the nest. I have retired now, so I have much more time to spend in various ways on my favourite hobby. 

After the publication of my article in 1993, I had two or three people write to me requesting more information and even one person offering further details about the affair. I felt I had given enough away without revealing more though, as I thought that one day I might perhaps explore further myself.

That time came last year. I confided in my friend Jim who dowsed the map, a copy of the one used twenty years ago. I was intrigued to discover that the two dowsings corresponded fairly closely.

We were given permission to search for the silver ingots with our detectors, which are probably more advanced and deeper seeking than Turing’s prototype.

Well, as with many treasure hunting stories accompanied by a map, our search was in vain, even though Jim made use of his well-proven divining rods to assist in the venture. The ground in the area in question is covered in thick, thorny, undergrowth and fallen trees, which made our task virtually impossible. Can you break the ‘code’ and find Alan Turing’s buried treasure?

Alas, if you have clicked on the link above, you will know that the date for entry has expired, but it’s still worth looking at the online competition launched at the time of the 2014 film, ‘The Imitation Game’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

 From the Sunday Citizen of September 2002

These extracts are from Alan Turing: The Enigma my Andrew Hodges

“Apparently he imagined that by burying the silver ingots, he [Alan Turing] could recover them after an invasion had been repelled, or that at least he could evade a post-war capital levy. (In 1920, Churchill and the Labour party had both favored such a policy.) It was an odd idea. He bought two [silver] bars, worth about £250, and wheeled them out in an old pram to some woods near Shenley. One was buried under the forest floor, the other under a bridge in the bed of a stream. He wrote out instructions for the recovery of the buried treasure and enciphered them.”

Fast forward to 1952

“… the main point if the weekend was to make one last serious attempt to retrieve the silver bars. This time Don (Alan Turing’s friend) had got hold of a commercial metal detector, and they went out to the bridge near Shenley in his car. Alan said, “It looks a bit different,” as he took off his socks and shoes and paddled in the mud. “Christ, do you know what’s happened? They’ve rebuilt the bridge and concreted over the bed.” They tried for the other bar in the woods, finding that the pram in which he had wheeled the ingots in 1940 was still there, but without any more luck than before in locating the spot. Giving up both bars as lost forever, they made their way to the Crown Inn at Shenley Brook End for some bread and cheese.”

Turing Banner

THE END … OR IS IT?

Professor Donald Michie

Extract from his Telegraph obituary July 2007 and confirmation of the above story

Professor Donald Michie, who died in a motor accident on Saturday aged 83, was a pioneer in the creation of artificial intelligence; during the war he worked on breaking German codes at Bletchley Park and later, as Professor of Machine Intelligence at Edinburgh University, helped to bring about the world of robots, computer games and search engines.

… Michie became close friends with Turing … Michie was one of the few at Bletchley Park who could match Turing at chess, and they discussed at their weekly sessions the possibility of developing a chess-playing machine.

… Fearing a German invasion might devalue his bank account, Turing turned his savings into bullion and buried the bars at several sites in the surrounding countryside.

For “security reasons” he did not make a map, and after the war he asked Michie to help him retrieve the silver using a home-made metal detector; the only stash they located was under a stream and impossible to recover.

John

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24 responses to Alan Turing’s Treasure – the Enigma

  1. I became fascinated with Mr. Turing after seeing “The Imitation Game”…..great post John. Thanks.

  2. Sounds like a BS story to me at this point. I don’t see where there is any documentation or proof that the silver was actually buried. An investigation of the “tram ” may have been helpful to see if it actually was used. Any proof that he did actually draw his savings out of a bank would be helpful.

    Just seems that a lot of things are taken as fact and the search is for the silver rather than a search for facts or probabilities that it even exists. Of course, if someone has reason to be confident that the silver does exist they may be more inclined to search for it.

    • As detectorist of well over 30years I find this story impossible to believe. Several questions come to mind though and the first is that surely there must be a paper trail and records on the purchase of Silver that could at least verify the story and save a wild goose chase. Why also would anyone bury it in a stream bed as the risk of flooding water exposing it would be a possibility. Also a man pushing a pram into the woods would obviously look a bit strange and attract attention, in fact he may even have been seen and followed to the spot where incidentally he decided to leave the pram, come on. Even worse we are led to believe that he could not find the spot after only a few years even with his own map. However even though I find it totally unbelievable its a harmless story and could create some lively discussions.

    • Treasure stories are full of ‘probabilities’.
      I referred to a PRAM, Gary. That is the diminutive of PERAMBULATOR, a baby carriage.

      Some thoughtful comments there, Jim!

      • 129 lbs of silver in a baby carriage does not seem likely if that’s what the numbers show. Interesting though and I would have to see how this story was told from the beginning to see if it relied heavily on the silver or if it relied on other things such as those ” probabilities ” that it was buried.

  3. A wonderful story John… and one that I, for one, can certainly believe.

    If I might hijack your story for a small bit here.

    Many years ago, I was asked by the father of a good friend if my “Geiger counter’ could detect silver. I told him yes, no problem.

    He then related a story to me that he had buried, in a plastic electrical box, over $1000.00 in silver coins. Unfortunately, he had sold his farm and could not remember exactly where he had stashed them.

    I went over to his home, fired up the old Garrett Master Hunter and proceeded to search the area where he was positive that it was located.

    No such luck.. So, over the next few hours, I gridded and searched.I did eventually find it…. but it was over 75 to 80 feet away from his first spot.

    So, yes, that desire to squirrel away silver still occurs even today.

    Maybe one day,Alan’s silver may yet be found

    Micheal

  4. Intriguing John! According to the internet, £250 in 1938/9 would be worth about £11500 today, which would buy (as far as I can determine, and that’s got a /lot/ of internet latitude) nearly 2300 oz t (129 lb) of silver. So they could be 1000 oz t (56lb) bars. At today’s prices that’s £21,740. Even quarter that’s worth a sniff. But I reckon I ‘ingot’ what it takes… Thanks again John!

  5. Great story John, even if it turns out to just be a “story”.

    People are searching for the “Holy Grail” and Noah’s Ark all the time, so why not for Turing’s lost silver?

  6. wonderful read john , It really had my attention

  7. Thanks John for a very interesting and intriguing post.
    One thing which has come to my mind is if the silver ingot under the Shenley bridge had existed and why then had Don ( Alan Turing’s Friend ) not followed through to find the people who had constructed the new bridge because myself being a earth moving excavator operator many years ago knows that you don’t just pour concrete on a pre used surface, you have to excavate a foundation and remove all loose material and it would require a base at least 1 metre deep excavated so to follow through I would be asking the question to the civil engineering contractors where they had tipped or disposed of the excavated river bed material.
    Get your wellies on John, the excavated material might have just been tipped on the adjacent stream bank or on the other hand the construction team has found the silver and kept hush hush about it.

  8. Having watched a documentary drama on the box last night about Alan Turing’s life it was stated that he did produce silver ingots and buried them somewhere near Bletchley Park. Apparently he forgot where they were buried. For a man who was an absolute mathematical genius I personally can’t believe that. Perhaps the story is as intriguing as the person?

    • I stated the same in my blog, Paul.
      Intriguing … yes!

    • I knew plenty of very bright people at Cambridge who would have been eminently capable of burying something and then losing it. The absent-minded professor stereotype has some truth in it.
      Great article. I often wonder when a hoard turns up if something similar hasn’t happened.

  9. I’m reading the book at the moment and he did seem to have a very selective intelligence, he realised that money would be useless in the event of an invasion but hadn’t worked out that if that happened he would have been heading across the Atlantic to continue his work.

    There is another older version of the story, that he took all his money out of the bank in silver coins and buried those. Perhaps both are true, but I think it more likely that they’ve been “quietly” found.

  10. 1 / all of uk covered by photograph , 1946
    Overlay pic to modern sat pic , marking pram
    2 , Get on the Ground of pram area and look f
    There is common denominators for all concealments , Get three out of five and you’ll be close , only one I would strike off is clay
    Enjoyed the read John Cheers
    Jim

  11. Thanks John, interesting article. Would be nice to see it cleared uo.

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