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Can You Crack the Code?

Posted by Craig H on 21 August 2009

Partly because it’s summer, partly because I visited Bletchley Park this week, but mostly because I’ve been intrigued by it for years, I’m posting a challenge on an enigma very close to the Symbian offices (most of us here walk past it every day!)

There’s an area of historic housing on Mitre Road and Ufford Street, between our office and Waterloo station. It was built by the Ecclesiastical and Church Estates Commissioners for England around 100 years ago, inspired by the ideas of Victorian housing reformer Octavia Hill (after whom it is now named). The thing that intrigues me is the irregular pattern on the cast iron railings at various points on the boundaries of the estate along Webber Street and Short Street:

Railings, Short Street, North

I don’t know if these railings are original, but they certainly look it to me. Oddly, they’re not mentioned in the official conservation area report. The question is, are these patterns just random or is there a message hidden in them?

You can see the railings in Google Street View from the above map (“View Larger Map” and drag the little orange person) but for convenience I’ve transcribed them here:

Short Street South Railings

Short Street North Railings

Webber Street North Railings

Webber Street Middle

Webber Street South Railings

12 Responses to “Can You Crack the Code?”

  1. RupertG said

    Looks like it could be music to me – the ‘notes’ seem to line up on a stave, and the verticals of the fence make neat bar lines.

    In fact, it looks like a hymn tune. I used to read those on a regular basis – I’ll see if I can pick out a melody.


  2. Mike Kinghan said

    Almost as mysterious to me: How did you “transcribe” the railings?

  3. Craig H said

    @Mike: not so mysterious 🙂 I photographed all the railings one afternoon, and then spent quite a lot of the following weekend drawing them in PowerPoint! (not too difficult using copy and paste, the tedious part was going through them checking for and correcting errors). I was sort-of hoping some inspiration would strike me while transcribing, but it didn’t :-/

    @Rupert: I like your thinking, generally the balls do line up like notes on a stave. However, I’ve gone back and looked at the railings in situ and the “bar lines” seem to be placed for structural reasons rather than musical ones (they’re consistently at either side of a gate, for instance, so I’d say they’re unlikely to be part of a code). Also there don’t seem to be enough “chords”, I’d expect more, or none, if it was a transcription of actual music.

  4. Terry said

    Hi Craig

    I have always found Bletchley Park to be a cracking day out!


  5. Donny said

    Looks more like brail to me – you know the dots raised on paper for visually impaired or blind use to read. its too methodical and structured for it to be completely musical alone; although good guess.

    on second thought. IF these where bottles filled with varying bottles and you run across them like those ancient music boxes on balarina toys – or more modern & manly that Audi A3 commercial with the forks on the spokes … THEN it could be musical (link that shows the video to demonstrate)

    I’m VERY curious what this is or partially is – and if its intentional. Can you ask the owners what the message/code is in and what does it mean please? Email us the answers, thanks.


  6. prom1 said

    So what is the answer to this code, Craig??

    • Craig H said

      I wish I knew:-) I have been meaning to take up Donny’s suggestion and contact the estate owners, but it wasn’t entirely clear who they are! According to this site it’s an investment company called Grainger-Geninvest, and they seem to have an email contact listed here.

      As I haven’t got a round tuit yet, does anyone fancy contacting them on behalf of us all?

      • Steve Moore said

        Hi – I have just contacted the estate owners – and they had to ask the residents! The answer was variously “as a deterrent to intruders” (presumably the would be burglar becomes distracted by trying to work out whether or not the pattern is a code, and is then easily caught), and a vague idea that it was something to do with music.
        As someone who has actually been involved in designing stuff like this in other places, my opinion is that it’s more than likely to boil down to ‘because they look nice’.

  7. Very, very interesting! I would be very interested to know whether this was intentional or whether there is more to it!

  8. I don’t want to diminish the fun, but:

    – the railings aren’t original. They were erected approximately two years ago by the trust that owns the buildings as part of a renovation project
    – at the time the pattern of colouring the balls (they were painted white subsequent to erecting the railing) seemed to be dictated by the workmen struggling to colour balls that overlapped with a crossbar

    Whether they have any deeper significance, or no, I think they look great.

    • Craig H said

      Are you sure that they weren’t there before? I remember them being painted a couple of years ago, but I could have sworn there were railings there when I joined old Symbian (2002). Could have been a different sort of railings before I suppose…

  9. It was a different sort of railing. I’m sure. I remember thinking what an improvement they were.

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