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Cracking the Shugborough code

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Enigma machineThe famous Enigma machine.
Veteran Bletchley Park code-breakers are attempting to decipher the meaning behind a series of letters inscribed on a garden monument in rural Staffordshire.

LISTEN
Bletchley Park Director Christine Large interviewed (12 May, 2004).
Bletchley Park Director Christine Large

Bletchley Park's Director Christine Large.
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Bletchley Park

Shugborough Hall (Staffordshire County Council site).


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The inscription at Shugborough Hall

The mysterious inscription on the garden monument at Shugborough Hall.
Close-up of the inscription

The middle group of letters in the code.
The 250 year-old inscription is carved into the Shepherd's Monument which sits in the garden at Shugborough, the ancestral home of the Earl of Lichfield.

The marble slab features the letters O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V with a D and an M underneath,etched beneath a mirror image of a painting by Nicholas Poussin.

The code-breakers gathered at the site after being invited to help solve the riddle of the inscription, which has given rise to many theories about its meaning. It has even been suggested that the inscription may hold clues to the legendary Holy Grail.

Bletchley Park's World War II code-breakers, joined by today's decoding experts, will be sifting through historical papers, photographs and archives stored at Shugborough, for clues that may ultimately solve the puzzle.

They will also be using the famous Enigma machine to help them in their quest.


Can you crack the code?

We'd like you to tell us what you think the inscription means. Send us your emails by CLICKING HERE, or write to us at: Today Programme, Room G630, BBC Television Centre, London W12 7RJ, and we'll publish some of your submissions here.

Your suggestions so far:

I am intrigued by the inscription. The letters D M identify it as a possible Roman funerary inscription:

My First Interpretation.
The stone is obviously a memorial for a sorely-missed sheepdog who died at the age of 10. He must have had two names, beginning with 'O' and 'U'. O S = ovium servator = sheep guardian. VAVV = vixit annos v + v = lived for 5 + 5 years. D M = dis manibus = to the gods of the underworld.

My Second Interpretation.
The initials could be the first letters of words in a line of Latin poetry: it is difficult to work out an English sentence with words beginning in these particular letters, but I am sure it could work in Latin. I suggest it is either a line from a poet such as Virgil or a Latin religious text used by the Knights Templar.
(DM does not fit in with this interpretation very easily).
From Anne Dicks, Head of Classics at Malvern Girls' College.


In reply to your item on the significance of the letters on the Shepherds' Monument at Shugborough I read a book by Henry Lincoln called "Key to the Sacred Pattern" where it was suggested that the poetess Anna Seward (1742-1809) began a poem with the following lines:

Out Your'n Own Sweet Vale, Alicia, Vanisheth Vanity
'Twixt Diety and Man thou shepherdest the way.

Following this I did a little research to try to find out who paid for the Monument.  I think that the monument was commissioned by the sons of William Anson, Thomas Anson (1695-1773) and George Anson (1697-1762). Thomas Anson was the artistic son who used his brother's wealth to carry out the building work. Thomas Anson also founded the Dilettanti Society with the object of promoting Greek classical art. The Anson family must know why they paid for Peter Scheemakers to produce the mirror image of Poussin's painting "Shepherds of Arcadia" together with the letters underneath.

Shugborough was left to George Adams of Orgreave who assumed the name Anson. He had a son Thomas Viscount Anson (1773-1818) who married the daughter of Thomas William Coke (1st Earl of Leicester) The daughter's name was Ann Margaret Coke and she was an artist. It is recorded that the 1st Earl of Leicester was a patron and collector of Peter Scheemakers work and his daughter, Ann Margaret Coke, painted copies of work by Poussin and Teniers.
At the present time the descendent of this family is the Earl of Lichfield who has an apartment at Shugborough. In his collection of paintings is a large oil painting by Ann Margaret Coke. It is a copy of a Tenier painting of St Antony and St Paul in the desert with a shepherdess in the background near a tree. There has been on-going interest in the theme of shepherds and Poussin and Tenier within this family for years.
From: David Lightfoot.


I expect someone has already thought of this, but is the inscription referring to Nicolas Poussin's painting at Chatsworth, "The Arcadian Shepherds"? The tombstone in that painting has as its inscription a quote from Virgil, "Et in Arcadia Ego". I think a classics scholar might be better able to solve this riddle than a code breaker.
From: Vivienne Golder.


On reading your article on "Cracking the code" I thought of my presentation I created for my college course in which I spoke about John Good and the Enigma machine.
On typing in the letters O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V. D. M the enigma machine produced the words GPUDCNAVY. Navy is the only part to catch my eye maybe this would help you.
From: Nathan Hogan.


There seems to be some significance in the recurrence of the letter "V" three times in the last four letters. Words beginning with "V" are relatively rarely used in combination - hardly ever in English.
So, assuming that it is an acronym of some kind, and setting aside the possibility that it refers to Roman numerals ("5 and 5 5" - which makes little sense) about the only explanation which springs to mind is the well-known "Veni, Vide, Vice..." supposedly uttered by Julius Caesar.

But why "V A V V"? Maybe part of a lover's message to the efect of "you came and you saw and conquered...(impliedly, my heart)" The lower two letters might then be, in effect, merely a signature - a lover's initials. So what of "O U O S"?  Well "O U" could be merely a phonetic representation of "Oh You...". "O S" we can only speculate about - but it may be no more than the loved one's initials...

There would seem to be a need to research the possibility of people with the initials "D M" and "O S" being associated with the inscription. Though not many forenames begin with "O" ("Oliver" "Osbert"?). Is there any possibility of Osbert Sitwell having been in the vicinity?

I of course have utterly invented this interpretation in order to explain why I am surprised that the Bletchley people regard this as remotely "breakable" in any certain way. It must be the classic example of a "one time pad" code. Even if any plausible interpretations can be arrived at there is scarcely likely to be any way of knowing with certainty that any of these interpretations are correct. At best they will always be speculations... unless some other confirmatory evidence can be found.
From: Dave Richards.


Observateur Utiliser Objecter Shugborough Voir Aussi Visa Versa.
From: Geoffrey Morgan.


Goodness me, the code is easy to any mobile phone texter! It is simply a message to that infamous Roman builder Vaxhaul Victor, in praise to the work in his building it says:

O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.
Oh you oh so vain architect Vaxhaul Victor.

From: Tim Pettit.


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