Woman crafts own plaque to honour codebreaker dad

Susan Herivel unveils the blue plaque she made in memory of her father, John Herivel

Susan Herivel unveils the blue plaque she made in memory of her father, John Herivel Buy this photo

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Education Reporter, also covering West Oxford. Call me on (01865) 425437

WHEN the Oxfordshire Blue Plaque group was unable to create a memorial to recognise a codebreaker, Susan Herivel took matters into her own hands.

Miss Herivel wanted to mark the house where her father John Herivel had lived in Oxford for more than 35 years.

Mr Herivel passed away, aged 92, in 2011. During the Second World War he worked at the then top-secret Bletchley Park helping to crack German codes.

He was the creator of the Herivel Tip which spotted habits the German operators were using and was one of the techniques used to solve the Enigma code.

He worked in Hut 6 alongside Alan Turing from January, 1940.

Miss Herivel, 65, wanted a blue plaque to be installed on to the house in Lonsdale Road, Oxford, to remember her father, but said she was told he did not fit the criteria.

Oxford Civic Society administers the scheme and its chairman Peter Thompson said: “It was more the timing for the plaque which didn’t work out.”

Miss Herivel, a potter and artist based in London, began to craft her own plaque instead.

Starting in December she got to work on the design and completed it in March. It was unveiled at the house on Saturday – 74 years to the day her father made his discovery at Bletchley Park.

She said: “My sister Mary and I still own the house in Oxford and it is not in a conservation area so I just thought it was something we should do.

“We spoke to the neighbours and they were all okay with it. I wasn’t sure if it would come off but it all worked out.”

She said her father, who worked as a lecturer in his birthplace of Belfast after the war ended, did not discuss his part in the war until the existence of Bletchley Park became public.

Mr Herivel met his wife Elizabeth, who read history at the University of Oxford in the 1930s, at Bletchley Park, but it was not until after the war ended that they began a relationship and got married.

Miss Herivel said: “We always knew some of what he and my mother had been part of, but it wasn’t until about 1998 when it was all revealed that he suddenly seemed to have this realisation of how important it had been and wanted to talk about it.”

thisisoxfordshire:

  • John Herivel

Bletchley Park Trust representative Frank Carter knew Mr Herivel well and said the codebreaker claimed his breakthrough had come to him in a dream.

Mr Carter said: “He was a remarkable man, a bit of a poet with a creative imagination, which I’m sure played a part in the Herivel Tip.”

He said what Mr Herivel realised was that the rings used to encode messages on the Enigma machine were not always reset properly, sometimes allowing their codes to be broken.

In 2008 Mr Herivel wrote a book Herivelismus and the German Military Enigma about his discovery.

He and his wife moved to Oxford in 1975 to be closer to their daughters, who both lived in London, and he was a visiting fellow at All Souls College.

The rules

Must have been dead for at least 20 years, although exceptions may be considered.

Must be “demonstrably eminent” and/or had an impact or done work worthy of lasting recognition.

Must have lived or worked in the building on which the plaque will be placed for at least five years.

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  • Dame Agatha Christie

County plaques

There are 75 plaques in Oxfordshire including:

JRR Tolkien, author, 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Ronnie Barker, actor and comedian, 23 Church Cowley Road, Oxford

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC and Bar, Magdalen College School, Oxford

Dame Agatha Christie, author, Winterbrook House, Cholsey

Jane Burden (Mrs William Morris), Pre-Raphaelite muse, St Helen’s Passage, off New College Lane, Oxford

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