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Science and Industry Museum gives first look inside Top Secret exhibition and reveals it is set to open on 19 May 2021

  • First glimpse inside major new exhibition opening on 19 May 2021 at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum. Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security, will reveal the rich personal and technological stories underpinning secret communications over the course of a century.
  • Free tickets can be booked now
  • The exhibition features over 100 objects, including historical technology, hand-written documents and declassified files from the collections of GCHQ and the Science Museum Group, exhibited together for the first time outside of London.
  • New GCHQ artefacts to be revealed for first time, including letters between Alan Turing and GCHQ’s then-Director.
  • First exhibition in the Science and Industry Museum’s new £5 million Special Exhibitions Gallery, which will originate and host some of the world’s best science exhibitions in the North. 
  • Timely focus on STEM careers as new ‘cyber corridor’ established in the North and new GCHQ offices operational in Manchester. 

The Science and Industry Museum has announced today that it will reopen on Wednesday 19 May 2021, giving a first look inside a major new exhibition that will unveil a world of secret communication and inspire security sleuths of the future in the North.

Free tickets can now be booked for Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security, which explores communications intelligence and cyber security over the course of 100 years. It has been curated by the Science Museum Group with the help of expert advisors at GCHQ—the UK’s intelligence and cyber agency.

The remarkable world of codebreaking, ciphers and secret communications will be uncovered through extraordinary objects, interactive puzzles and first-person interviews. From the First World War to the latest in cyber security, fascinating stories will be revealed via hand-written documents, declassified files and artefacts from the historic collections of the Science Museum Group and GCHQ. 

Visitors will begin their journey over a century ago by exploring how Britain protected its skies during the First World War. From there, and for the first time at the exhibition’s run in Manchester, a collection of objects will be displayed that track the remarkable work of Alan Turing and the team at Bletchley Park, who broke German ciphers systems in the 1940s.

The exhibition then drops visitors into the heart of Cold War Britain and uncovers how intelligence agencies and police foiled one of the most successful spy rings in operation during that time, before transporting visitors back to the 21st century to examine the challenges of maintaining digital security and how the new technologies of today have transformed how we communicate, bringing risks as well as opportunities. 

Among the over 100 exhibition objects that reveal fascinating historical stories of communications intelligence from the last century are cipher machines used during the Second World War, secure telephones of the type used by British Prime Ministers, and an encryption key used by Her Majesty The Queen. Other exhibits also chart the more recent history of cyber security and the work of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which works to defend against cyber attacks. Visitors will be able to see a computer infected with the WannaCry ransomware which, in 2017, affected thousands of people and organisations, including the NHS. 

The exhibition will showcase the ingenious work of Alan Turing, whose story is intrinsically tied to Manchester, through items that have been introduced to the exhibition specifically for its run in the city. These include marketing materials featuring Turing for the Ferranti Mark 1 computer, one of world's first commercially available digital computers, a delegates list with Turing’s name on it for the inaugural Manchester University Computing Machine Conference in 1951, and correspondence between Turing and Eric Jones, the then-director of GCHQ. It will also tell the story of Turing and the people at Bletchley Park who broke the German Enigma and Lorenz cipher systems, allowing the British to read some enemy messages—a breakthrough that had a profound impact on the outcome of the Second World War.

Sleuths in the making can also take their own tour around the exhibition with a specially designed trail to help uncover the remarkable people and stories in the exhibition, and which also reveals the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills in maintaining national security. The development of STEM skills is central to the work of both the Science Museum Group and GCHQ, and this exhibition highlights the huge diversity of skills practised every day that can be used to pursue a career in STEM.

The Science and Industry Museum has been closed since 5 November due to government coronavirus restrictions. The launch of Top Secret on 19 May 2021 marks its eagerly awaited reopening, as well as the revival of the wider cultural sector following the next stage of lockdown measures easing. 

Sally MacDonald, Director of the Science and Industry Museum, said:

"After more than 27 weeks of closure during the latest lockdown, we are so excited to be welcoming visitors back soon. Museums provide a really important public service and are so important for our health and wellbeing. During a brief reopening between lockdowns last summer, we safely welcomed over 34,600 visitors, which shows just how much people want to get back and enjoy the physical experience of being in the museum. We have proven measures in place to safely welcome visitors back, and I’m delighted that we’ll be doing this in just a matter of weeks.

"Our museum tells the stories of Manchester's pioneering past and ideas that started here and went on to change the world. STEM skills have been at the heart of this innovation, and I’m delighted that we’re hosting Top Secret, which showcases the incredible heights that can be achieved through the application of these skills, at a time when the importance of STEM across the region is more important than ever."

Jeremy Flemming, Director GCHQ, said:

"GCHQ has been at the heart of the nation’s security for over 100 years and to this day it gives the country a strategic edge—helping to protect the country, its people and our way of life. 
"We want to give people from across the country a glimpse into our secret history, world-leading innovation and most of all the brilliant people who continue to keep the country safe today. So I’m delighted that Top Secret has now moved to Manchester where we recently opened a city centre office, which is home to hundreds of our staff.
"At GCHQ we believe with the right mix of minds anything is possible. We hope that Top Secret intrigues, excites and maybe even inspires the next generation of recruits from the area to consider a career with us."

Top Secret originally opened at the Science Museum in London to coincide with GCHQ’s centenary in 2019. Its tenure in Manchester is especially significant following the opening of GCHQ’s newest site at the heart of the city. GCHQ is pioneering a new kind of national security from the Heron House offices, mentoring start-ups on tech challenges and working with universities on some of the most pressing national security challenges. 

The development of STEM skills is central to the work of both the Science Museum Group and GCHQ, and this exhibition highlights the huge diversity of skills practised every day that can be used to pursue a career in STEM. The government plans to establish a ‘cyber corridor’ in the North to promote growth in the digital, defence and technology sectors, and the subsequent need to inspire a new generation of intelligence and cyber security officers, makes the launch of Top Secret in Manchester particularly timely.  

It is also significant as the inaugural exhibition to be hosted in the Science and Industry Museum’s new £5 million Special Exhibitions Gallery. Designed by award-winning architectural practice Carmody Groarke, working alongside Manchester building contractor HH Smith & Sons, the new gallery has transformed the lower ground floor of the museum’s Grade II listed New Warehouse to reveal grand industrial beauty with stunning modern and sustainable design. Visiting Top Secret will be the first time members of the public have been able to visit the space as a gallery, set to originate and host some of the world’s best science experiences in the North. 

A safe and enjoyable experience is the museum’s top priority. Visitors are being asked to observe social distancing, wear face coverings, follow one-way routes and book tickets for both entry to the museum and exhibition in advance so that visitor capacity can be managed. 

Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security will open on Wednesday 19 May 2021 and run until Tuesday 31 August. It is free, but booking is essential (either online or by calling 033 0058 0058). Visitors will also need to book a general admission ticket. 

Following its run in Manchester, Top Secret will tour to the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford in 2022. The exhibition is supported by principal funder DCMS and principal sponsor Raytheon, with media partner The Telegraph.

The Science and Industry Museum is currently undergoing a multi-million-pound restoration project. As well as the now-complete Special Exhibitions Gallery, the much-loved Power Hall is being renovated, and improvement works are currently being made to the historic 1830 Station and Warehouse, the world's first passenger railway station and the oldest existing railway goods warehouse, respectively. These areas will remain closed until works are complete, but there is still plenty to do see and enjoy alongside Top Secret, including the Revolution Manchester gallery, where the city’s rich legacy of world-changing innovations, discoveries and ideas are on display; the Textiles Gallery, which tells the story of how cotton transformed the city into an industrial powerhouse; and the Experiment gallery, a favourite among family visitors who can see science brought to life through a series of interactive exhibits. 


Notes to editors

For more information, please contact communications manager, Alex Urmston, on 07741 103 790/

About the Science and Industry Museum

The Science and Industry Museum tells the story of where science met industry and the modern world began. Manchester was one of the first global industrial cities, and its epic rise, decline and resurrection has been echoed in countless other cities around the world. The museum's mission is to inspire all its visitors, including future scientists and inventors, with the story of how ideas can change the world, from the industrial revolution to today and beyond.  

The Science and Industry Museum is on the site of Liverpool Road Station, which was the Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world's first purpose-built passenger railway. Among its internationally significant buildings are the world's oldest surviving passenger railway station and the world's first railway goods warehouse. In total, there are two Grade I listed buildings and four Grade II listed buildings on the site. 

The Science and Industry Museum is part of the Science Museum Group, a family of museums which also includes the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York and Shildon; and the Science and Media Museum in Bradford. The Science Museum Group is devoted to the history and contemporary practice of science, medicine, technology, industry and media. With five million visitors each year and an unrivalled collection, it is the most significant group of museums of science and innovation worldwide. 

About the Special Exhibitions Gallery

The £5 million, 725-metre-square Special Exhibitions Gallery is the first project to be completed in the Science and Industry Museum’s multi-million-pound restoration plan, which will conserve and further open up its globally significant buildings and bring to life the story of the site and past, present and future ideas that change the world.

It opens up public access as a gallery space to this part of the much-loved museum for the first time, and will originate and host some of the world’s best science exhibitions and experiences in the North.

The Special Exhibitions Gallery is being generously funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Wellcome and Garfield Weston Foundation, with further support from the Kirby Laing Foundation and The Zochonis Charitable Trust.

About GCHQ

GCHQ is an intelligence and cyber agency with a mission to help keep the UK safe. Its people use cutting-edge technology and technical ingenuity to identify, analyse and disrupt threats in an increasingly digital world. We work closely with MI5, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), law enforcement, the military and international partners to counter real-world and online threats from nation states, criminal groups, terrorists and individuals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ and was set up in October 2016, leads the cyber security mission to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online.

About STEM skills

The Science and Industry Museum and GMCA are working in partnership on a joint action plan to help bridge the STEM skills gap and make Greater Manchester a world leading city for STEM excellence. Both organisations, along with many others, have been playing a key role in working to address the city’s shortfall in skilled STEM workers, as well as preparing the people of Greater Manchester for an inspiring future ahead. With the support of GCHQ, the Top Secret exhibition will help to engage young people around the importance of STEM skills in maintaining national security. 

About DCMS

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) drives growth, enriches lives and promotes Britain to the world. DCMS is working to make the UK the safest place to live and work online and the best place to start and grow a digital business. The National Cyber Security Programme is supported by DCMS as part of the Government's five year, £1.9 billion National Cyber Security Strategy.

About Raytheon UK

With facilities in Broughton, Waddington, Glenrothes, Harlow, Gloucester and Manchester, Raytheon UK is invested in the British workforce and the development of UK technology. Across the country the company employs 1,700 people and supports 9,000 jobs across the UK supply chain. With more than 30 years of experience in cyber, Raytheon UK offers unmatched end-to-end cyber capabilities that protect every side of cyber for government agencies, businesses and nations. Raytheon UK has invested in two cyber innovation centres in the UK to support the growing demand for cyber security expertise. Raytheon UK’s education investments include a Cyber Academy, which provides university students an intense three-day workshop and capstone exercise on security skills, as well as bursaries offered to support specialist cyber education, workshops and mini-camps.

About Media Partner The Telegraph

The Telegraph’s mission is to provide content that inspires people to have the perspective they want to progress in life. It delivers quality, trusted, award-winning journalism, 24 hours a day, across its digital and print properties as well as through leading digital partners.

Founded in 1855, The Telegraph has built a diversified commercial model, with equal strength in advertising, subscriptions and circulation, commerce, and events. In 1994, The Telegraph launched an online offering, the first UK publisher to do so. The launch in 2016 of a freemium digital subscriptions model, with clearly defined open and premium content, has enhanced its ability to offer both scale and engagement to support this diversified approach.

The Telegraph’s portfolio includes The Telegraph website and app, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph print titles, and The Telegraph Edition app which offers a digital replication of the newspapers.

21.7 million Britons consume content across the portfolio monthly, with a growing global digital audience through 89 million browsers a month enjoying The Telegraph’s perspective on the world. Additionally, The Daily Telegraph is the UK’s bestselling quality broadsheet newspaper.