Blue plaque recognises Lord Jenkins’ Bedford and Bletchley Park connection

Roy Jenkins blue plaque
L-R: Stephen Lill, Cllr Henry Vann, Charlotte Cornwall (owner of No 8), local residents

A blue plaque has been put up in Bedford to Roy Jenkins, who played a key part in British politics in the second half of the twentieth century.

He was the great social reformer of the swinging Sixties who liberalised the law on homosexuality, abortion, and jury trials and ended theatre censorship.

But, before all that, at the age of 23, he was billeted on the owners of 8, Cornwall Road, Bedford.

He had been selected to join the intelligence corps and was sent to Bedford for three months hot house training in enemy code deciphering, before going on to work at Bletchley Park.

Unknown to most Bedfordians at the time, the town was a centre for training in German and Japanese code breaking, beginning with language training.

Dozens of the brightest Oxbridge students, especially linguists, ended up in Bedford and were trained in great secrecy in houses on De Parys Avenue, St Andrews Road and above a gas showroom on the corner of Dame Alice Street and the Broadway.

Jenkins was not a linguist but had spent up to five hours a day teaching himself German before arriving in Bedford.

Stephen Lill, who lives opposite, had believed for many years that Roy Jenkins had stayed on Cornwall Road but was at a loss as to how to prove it.

“One day I wrote to Lord Jenkins, and he replied confirming that he had indeed stayed at number 8. Since then I’ve felt that a blue plaque should be put up to mark the fact, and I’m very pleased that it’s finally happened.”

Cllr Henry Vann who, with fellow De Parys Councillor David Sawyer, helped facilitate the plaque added, “It is great to be able to mark this significant local and indeed UK history.

“In addition to his contribution to the war effort, Roy Jenkins was a trailblazing social reformer who abolished capital punishment and oversaw huge progressive changes in the 1960s.”

Lord Jenkins told his biographer decoding was the most frustrating mental experience of his life, “Particularly as the act of trying almost physically hurt one’s brain, which became distinctly raw if it was not relieved by the catharsis of achievement.”

And sometimes there were successes. He was part of the team whose decoding efforts enabled Allied commanders to read the movements of German forces in France before D-Day.

At least two other significant figures also lived on Cornwall Road. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Michael Le Fanu, who lived there as a boy, and John Fletcher Dodd, who in 1906 set up one of the first holiday camps at Caister.

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