If I walked that Way I'd get arrested: the birth of the Alan Turing Way

From a pamphlet marking the opening of the Alan Turing Way, 1994. From the archives of the Manchester  Lit & Phil .

From a pamphlet marking the opening of the Alan Turing Way, 1994. From the archives of the Manchester Lit & Phil.

Thanks to the archivist at the Lit & Phil I can firm up the history of Manchester’s rediscovery of its Turing connection. The Lit & Phil staff got out their Turing file for when I visited to give a talk last month and it contained a small pamphlet anonymously created by the Central Library. The pamphlet marked the opening of the Alan Turing Way, by the City Council, on 12th December 1994.

It has a foreword by the then leader of the council, Graham Stringer, who mentions that he only came across the story of Turing the year before, in 1993.   But where did Stringer come across the story? There was mild publicity when Andrew Hodges’ biography came out in 1983,  and more when Hugh Whitemore’s dramatic adaptation Breaking the Code premiered in London in 1986 (I think, but am not sure I went and saw Derek Jacobi; it is mixed up in my memory with Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia which was ten  years later, but the two  were pretty much the only representations of mathematical culture I saw in the theatre up until the mid 90’s). That had a TV adaptation, but not until 1996. Possibly there was some extra press when the Vintage paperback edition of Hodges came out in 1992.

In any case I’d love to hear from anyone who knew of Turing’s Manchester connections before the road to the velodrome got built. I could ask Graham Stringer MP but he is busy being a climate change sceptic and Lexiteer so I am not inclined to give him much weight these days.

I have said in the past that the public marking of the Alan Turing Way only came after the privately-funded campaign that resulted in the Sackville Gardens statue. It turns out I was wrong: the archive also has a bunch of press cuttings about that campaign that make it plain that it didn’t start until five years later in 1999.

Minute Book of the Manchester  Lit & Phil , 1954, with thanks to the Society for giving me access.

Minute Book of the Manchester Lit & Phil, 1954, with thanks to the Society for giving me access.

Not in the Lit & Phil’s Turing file, but in their Minute book, is the page recording Turing’s admission to membership. It only came in the last year of his life. Some of the other names on the page are notable (to me): Polanyi, Jefferson anf Niel Pearson of the ‘51 society. I also note ‘Miss A Clayton’: it is perhaps just possible that is Audrey Bates, who was working for Ferranti and got married around this time and changed her name to Clayton, but that would require a rather unlikely mistake (and be surprising in my understanding of the Lit & Phil membership).