A moving moment

(I sink to the depths of the rest of the media by using a punning title. But it’s a good pun.)
Yesterday Dr Clive Gerrard (retired Assistant Director, Computing Service) and I (John Law) moved the front console of the IBM 360/67 from Claremont Tower to the USB, in preparation for the 360-themed display which, it is hoped, will open in the first week of November.

The console (which fronted the CPU of the mainframe) moved into Claremont Tower, along with about 12 tons of the rest of the computer, in August 1967. The mighty machine was decommissioned and scrapped in 1984. Roger saved many parts, among which the front console was the prize exhibit.  The console lived in various places for the next 34 years, until yesterday.

Today (5th October) is the last working day of NUIT in the Claremont Building: next Monday all staff move to Black Horse House (behind Civic Centre) — for good.  This ends 51 years of Computing’s association with Claremont Tower  …. but not quite!  The Computer Room in the Sub-Basement remains intact (as it had to), and systems staff will continue to visit it. For the foreseeable future.

This was taken in the very early 1970s. Console at work! Or rather not: the lovely Ada is surrounded by concerned System Programmers: a glitch has occurred, work has come to a halt. Keith Barnett and Pete Whillance are the two SPs that we can see.

The console spent most of its retired life (so far) in Roger Broughton’s office.

An unfamiliar view, of the back of the console. See the wonderful work of IBM’s engineers in designing and bulding this thing of beauty. Clive and I are about to pack it up …

… in its bespoke transportation crate.

Luxury transport awaits.

And so we leave Claremont Tower to Sir Robert McAlpine…

… for the bright open spaces of the Urban Sciences Building, at The Helix.

The Last Moving Day [in Claremont Tower]

Today Sir Robert McAlpine (Builders) started closing the net on the Claremont Complex (Tower, Bridge and Daysh): all entrances/exits are gradually being closed for access, and the complex is now officially a building site.

The lifts are now unavailable (from 1700 today), and just in time we managed to move a pile of “stuff” from Bridge Floor 3 to the Sub-Basement refuge; this pile included the two back walls from the famous “Perspex Display Cabinets”, and three boxes of miscellaneous bits (now known as artefacts) which Adèle has fielded from the crowd leaving the Bridge next week, as NUIT move into Black Horse House. Kevin Dixon (Infrastructure Support Group) helped me move the great unwieldy back walls to the SB: our thanks to him, and we’ve noted him down as a strong lad, for future reference 🙂

Our storage space is now crammed out with moved items, and new items: my own task in the next few weeks (if I get into the SB), will be to tidy up and organise all these things, and hopefully retrieve some space.

On that topic, certain members of NUIT staff will have to be granted access (under very strict conditions) to the SB, and we are hoping that one or two others may be permitted on to that list (including me). There will now be a couple of weeks of uncertainty while handover is completed: the operation for Sir Robert McAlpine is very much complicated by having to allow access to non-employees through their site.

Below, you can see the tidying-up task now required in SB6…

The back walls, crammed into SB6; they are facing another prize: the mural which was part of Claremont Tower Lobby for 40 years or more.

Here on the floor you see the Silicon Graphics workstation that Adèle received from ICAMB (Med School) two weeks ago. It weighs a ton (not quite).

A box of “stuff” rescued from the WEEE recycling; includes tools used by networking engineers, as well as computing electronica.

Foreground: another box, ditto. Background: two shelves-worth of “The Wendy Bond Donation”, which comprises an eMac, and a Macintosh Performa 600, with Stylewriter.

New acquisitions from Claremont Complex – part 2

A few more of the items that have come out of the woodwork during the big tidy-up of Claremont Complex as per previous post. Not sure if we will want to keep everything but all are up for consideration for inclusion in the Collection or displays. Then comes the job of cataloguing them all….

Iomega Zip Drive – unfortunately no drive – just empty case – donated by Gavin Younger

WACOM drawing pad – rescued from WEEE by AMD

Avometer DA116 – rescued from WEEE by AMD – front view

Avometer DA116 – rescued from WEEE by AMD – rear view


HP laptop dock – rescued from WEEE by AMD

Courier Dual Standard modem – donated by Michael Lancastle (Network Team) with power supplies, cables, etc.

Apple PowerBook G4 (minus memory) – donated by Mark Agar

Toshiba USB external floppy drive – donated by Infrastructure Systems Team via AMD

IBM – floppy disc – can’t remember who gave me that ! Maybe Karen Wilson

Digital Counter – TSA 6636 – rescued from WEEE by AMD

RM NIC – donated by Jeff Craig (Network Team) – has been in his desk drawers for years he says…

A bit of an odd one… but we just don’t get this kind of quality from our suppliers any more ! Great little folder, pad and gel pen. Probably not that old. We can use it in SB6 for writing notes 🙂 – rescued by AMD from one of the recycle bins!!


New acquisitions from Claremont Complex – part 1

After many decades working in Claremont Tower and Bridge, Newcastle University’s central IT team are to move to new accommodation on Monday, 8th October. We’ve all been encouraged to clean out our ‘junk’ before the move. A few weeks ago, I reminded staff to be careful with throwing out ‘junk’ in case any of it was a potential artefact that could be included in the Collection. Here’s what came out of the woodwork…. (I’ve split this into 2 posts because there are so many images and things were getting unwieldy whilst I was trying to upload them)…

MC102XL Fast Ethernet Media Converter – rescued from WEEE by AMD

HP ProCurve switch 2524 – rescued by AMD from WEEE pile

MC101 Fast Ethernet Media Converter – rescued by AMD from WEEE pile

ProCurve Switch 2610-24 –  rescued by AMD from WEEE pile

Ethernet 803.3 10 BASE-T Hub – rescued from WEEE by AMD

Micronet SP260 10BASE-T Etherhub – rescued from WEEE by AMD

Digi AnywhereUSB – 5 port network USB hub – donated by Infrastructure Team (via AMD)

Belkin 2-port network USB hub – donated by Infrastructure Systems Team – via AMD

Belkin 2-port network USB hub – rear view

IPad – rescued from WEEE by AMD (front view) – model A1474

IPad – rescued from WEEE by AMD – back view










Perspex display cabinets moved (90%)

Today I completed the moving of the two perspex display cabinets from Bridge Floor 3, down to storage in the Sub Basement, SB17.  This “room” used to be a broom cupboard under the stairs: we occupied it a few weeks ago, thinking it might come in useful, and it has.

The two cabinets (which are spectacularly good, for displays) were bought by the School some years ago, and used to be on Floor 6 of the Bridge, displaying historical hardware  for the benefit of Computing students.

They were moved to Floor 3 (NUIT) when the School moved last year to USB — thanks to Adèle for the idea, and to Michelle for organising the wonderful porters who moved them bodily – assembled – down to Floor 3 (see below); this was NOT, repeat, NOT, an easy operation: the cabinets are extremely heavy, yet every part is very delicate, being polished perspex.

They have provided a slightly up-graded display for NUIT staff for almost a year, but now NUIT are moving out, and so we had to rescue them before Estates move in with their contractors, builders, and waste disposal people.

NUIT staff have effected this rescue: Adèle is ‘Project Manager’, but Paul Kobasa has been the major helper in doing the work., which has taken many person hours. The cabinets had to be dismantled, wrapped in heavy duty clingfilm, and otherwise protected, and finally moved to a “safe place” (we hope).

The two back walls remain on Floor 3 (too big for me to move alone) but we hope to have them out of there next week.

Christian and Phil, the porters who engineered the move, 13 Oct 2017. Christian is just over 6′ tall; each cabinet weighs more than he does.

Each cabinet has 11 pieces; they have been laid flat, on top of pallets (in case of flood!), and with a layer of 25mm polystyrene between each piece. The doors (on left) were just too wide to be laid flat. There remain the two back walls (6′ x 4′) .. a 3-man lift (two to lift one to open doors). Adèle has carefully labelled every piece, to maximise possibility of successful re-assembly.

One cabinet has had “corner protection” (cardboard bits) added; there was no time to do this on the other cabinet.

Finally, the two pedestals have been snugged in, standing on their own “flood protection” (will an inch or two be enough?).

4th new cabinet

New Cabinet #4

In the last few weeks we received our fourth (and in the near future at least, final) new display cabinet. This was originally purchased for our Great Exhibition of the North contribution, but due to delivery lead times we ended up repurposing new cabinets #2 and #3 for that. We are now in an interim phase before cabinets #2 and #3 are adjusted for their intended purpose—our forthcoming IBM 360 mainframe exhibition—and (a subset of) the microcomputers are moved to Cabinet #4. During this interim phase we have extended the microcomputers exhibit into #4 (as pictured) whilst we work out the details of a particular theme, which (if it pans out) I hope to announce here very soon.

The Great Exhibition of the North is officially over in a week’s time on September 9th. Now is the time to make plans to see anything you have missed (that’s what I’m doing!)

The IBM Mainframe and interim exhibit ideas were first mentioned in this earlier post.

Moving our “Big Units”

There are a few “big units” in the Broughton Collection. These have been stored in the Loading Bay for decades, unmoved since they were decommissioned in 1992. Although inside a solid, underground, concrete shelter, they have put up with freezing cold, the dark (poor creatures!), and occasional weather penetrations through the Loading Bay roof.
They had to be moved out, because of an impending delivery of new A/C equipment. Many thanks indeed to Matt, Rob and Kieran of the Insfrastructure support team (who look after the Data Centre, aka the Computer Room).

To my surprise, the units all “rolled” easily out to their new temporary home, though they took some shoving (see weights in the pictures) (we let the lads do the shoving).

We have festooned them with notices (but could not find enough tape!), and some rudimentary information for the curious. Few people will pass by this location, but those who do need to be dissuaded from fiddling: we won’t get any more of any of these items!

Big Units in new location

Memorex disk from Amdahl Ops Console, and a Xerox Trident T200 disk unit

A little presumptuous, as regards “destined”, but no harm in dropping a big fat hint.

Here, and below, an idea of the filth on parts of these units. This is the tape drive.

Composite of the “rudimentary info”, gleaned mainly from Roger’s website. His pages for these units are fantastic (like so many others).


A direct link with our first computer (1957)

As a result of the publicity for the displays at the USB, Prof Randell was contacted by Peter Bowes, who is Technical Manager for the  University’s SAgE Faculty. He wondered if we had more photographs of the Ferranti Pegasus, which was the University’s (and the North East’s) very first computer. Peter’s father helped install the Pegasus in 1957!

We don’t [yet] have more photographs, but we did find Pegasus log books, which contain entries from HD Bowes, Peter’s father:

A page from 1958

Peter was really delighted with this photograph, and his mother also when he sent it to her. She, too, was involved with computers in those early days, being a mathematician by profession.  It’s good to have established this early link!  Our search for more photographs of the Pegasus [with people] goes on.

This week in Historic Computing

Here’s a round-up of historic computing activities from the last week.

The Great Exhibition of the North

Our Great Exhibition of the North exhibit received some press write-ups. In addition to the University Press Office piece mentioned a few posts ago, syndicated pieces appeared on the School of Computing and Newcastle Helix websites, and an item has been in circulation on the campus-wide message displays. It was also picked up by local paper The Chronicle.

On the back of this publicity, we have received several enquiries from folks about the existing items or the eras in which they were operational, as well as offers to loan or donate additional items. We are trying to follow up all enquiries as quickly as we can. Thank you for your interest!

We’ve enriched the exhibit with a custom-printed banner, providing some further information on the context of the artefacts, as well as a promotional A-frame outside the building to attract audiences.

Mainframe exhibition

Our next major permanent exhibit will be centred around artefacts from the IBM 360/67 mainframe computer that was installed in Newcastle in 1967. At the time this was the largest IBM computer in any british University and Europe’s first time-sharing computer.

Amongst the artefacts that will form part of this exhibit are the a 3D printed scale model of Claremont Tower Sub Basement 12 (SB12), the room within which the IBM 360/67 was situated. This model is being produced by two very talented volunteers in conjunction with researchers from OpenLab. From the machine itself we have the Dynamic Address Translation (Associative Memory) engineer’s control panel and the Operator’s console, the latter of which we are intending to “bring to life” as our first interactive exhibit component. We are very keen to provide interactive elements wherever it is possible and sensible in the context of the exhibit.

We have been planning to organise an opening event for the unveiling of this exhibit once it is ready and some discussion about the best time for that took place over the last week. We have settled on “reading week” in the next academic term, which will be at some point in mid November. More on this, of course, as we plan it.

A major work item for us before this can take place is organising the careful moving of these artefacts from their present location to the Urban Sciences Building.

short-term exhibit

Our fourth new display case arrived Today. This was originally designed for the microcomputers forming part of the GEN exhibit but we ended up shuffling things around in order to open that exhibit as early as possible. With our IBM exhibit unveiling now set for mid-November, the opportunity has come up to put together a short-term “bridging” exhibition from the end of GEN until then. The School is very keen for us to produce something which is as interactive as possible, and has as much relevance to the incoming undergraduates as possible. We have been working feverishly to engage with this brief and hope to unveil an exciting plan in due course!

Bits and Pieces

Of note this week was the acquisition of some artefacts relating to the BBC Domesday Project of 1986. We will write more about that in a subsequent blog post.

We’ve continued to explore options for upgrading our main catalogue system; we’ve received several enquiries about loans or donations of equipment for our exhibits which we are steadily replying to; several of the team have put effort into keeping in touch with friends, family and acquaintances of the group to update them on goings on.

Finally we are discussing issues of access for the current location of the majority of our stored artefacts, as the NUIT (Computing Service) personnel are moving to a new building, and the vacated location is undergoing significant refurbishment. This will make access difficult for us, although it should pose no risk to the items themselves.