Her Majesty the Queen visited BGF’s London office at Watergate House today, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the intelligence, security and cyber organisation GCHQ.
The Government Code & Cypher School was established in 1919 in Watergate House, prior to moving premises to Bletchley Park. From there, Alan Turing and the enigma code-breakers made what Winston Churchill described as the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany and its Axis partners. BGF took over GCHQ’s former building in 2017 and has made a feature of its architectural details from its intelligence agency heyday – with the meeting rooms named after key figures in the organisation.
The Queen was given a tour of the building by GCHQ’s director Jeremy Fleming, and met with members of the UK’s intelligence services and significant figures in the history of GCHQ, including the grandchildren of the agency’s first head Alastair Denniston, and Ruth Bourne, 92, who had worked in a Bletchley Park satellite base. The event was hosted by BGF’s CEO Stephen Welton, COO Matthew Reed, and Legal Counsel Catharine Clarke.
Artefacts from GCHQ’s history were displayed throughout the building, from Margaret Thatcher’s mobile scrambling phone that encrypted her conversations during the Falklands War period, to an original Enigma machine used by Nazi forces to encrypt their messages. A code book used by the Royal Household in 1947 which contained the pseudonym “2519” for the Queen, when she was Princess Elizabeth, was also on display.
The Queen ended her visit by unveiling a plaque containing two secret, hidden messages – a nod to the code-breaking minds who established the agency. The plaque, which features certain letters or numbers with a dot or line under them, says: “1919 – 1921. The first home of GCHQ. The UK’s intelligence security and cyber agency. Known then as GC&CS, formed from the Admiralty’s Room 40 and the War Office’s MI1(b).”
GCHQ’s director Jeremy Fleming told the Queen and invited guests: “Our work is not often glamorous or easily portrayed in film. But over the last 100 years it has saved countless lives, shortened wars, given Britain an edge, and solved or harnessed some of the world’s hardest technology challenges.” He added that the “unprecedented rate” of change in today’s technology-driven world was “unleashing amazing complexity” for his spies to deal with, but that the emergence of artificial intelligence and high-powered quantum computing would allow his staff to further improve their effectiveness in the cyber age.
Stephen Welton, CEO at BGF, said: “It was the greatest honour to welcome Her Majesty to our office today to celebrate the critical role that our intelligence services make in defending this country, and pay homage to the legacy of our historic building. None of us can ever truly appreciate the role that intelligence plays routinely in our lives, or more importantly the lives that have been saved as a result. The collective capabilities of Mi5, Mi6, and of course CGHQ is invaluable and we were delighted to commemorate a centenary like no other. And as the most active investor in growing businesses, we’re very proud to continue the ethos of innovation built into our very walls. “