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.

Seminar, and Demonstration of a Steam-Powered Difference Engine

This afternoon at 2pm in the Urban Sciences Building, the School of Computing are hosting Professors Adrian Johnstone and Elizabeth Scott, of Royal Holloway, University of London, who will be delivering a seminar entitled “Babbage and the abstraction of mechanism”, followed by a live demonstration of their steam-powered difference engine!

This has to be seen to be believed. The seminar and demo will be in the 1.006 Lecture Theatre and is open to anyone. We hope to see as many people as possible!


Charles Babbage has been called the ‘great-uncle’ of modern computing, a claim that rests simultaneously on his demonstrable understanding of most of the architectural principles underlying the modern computer, and the almost universal ignorance of Babbage’s work before 1970. There has since been an explosion of interest both in Babbage’s devices and the impact they might have had in some parallel history, and in Babbage himself as a man of great originality who had essentially no influence at all on subsequent technological development.

In all this, one fundamental question has been largely ignored: how is it that one individual working alone could have synthesised a workable computer design over a short period, designing an object whose complexity of behaviour so far exceeded that of contemporary machines that it would not be matched for over one hundred years?

The key, as is well understood in modern engineering contexts, is to abstract away from the full complexity of a concrete system. The complexity barrier was faced by the electronics industry in the 1970s and 1980s, and triggered a switch from visual descriptions of large scale digital electronic devices to text-based Hardware Description Languages similar in style to that of a software programming language.

Babbage too faced an overwhelming complexity barrier, and his response was indeed to design a system of hardware abstractions which he called his Notation. The ideas allowed him to reason in the abstract about chains of cause and effect in his mechanisms, and he believed the Notation to be his crowning achievement.

His ideas were not taken up: one near contemporary rejected it because there could be many concrete machines that had the same notational description (which to modern eyes of course, is precisely the point of abstraction).

In this talk I will use the 1980s Inmos Fat Freddy system to draw parallels between early electronic HDL’s and Babbage’s notation; display some strengths and weaknesses of Babbage’s approach; and speculate on underlying cause of the 150 year gap between Babbage’s notation and the emergence of HDL based engineering design as a standard technique.


Elizabeth Scott is Professor Computer Science at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Director of the Software Engineering Language Centre; she also has overall responsibility for teaching and learning in the department.

Scott completed her D.Phil under the supervision of Graham Higman, then Waynefleet Professor of Pure Mathematics at Oxford with whom she also co-authored the LMS Monograph Existentially Closed Groups. She first came to Royal Holloway in 1991, joining Ursula Martin’s Group and was appointed Professor of Computer Science in 2009.

Her research concerns generalised parsing – that is efficient and completely general methods for processing computer programming languages and indeed natural languages. She is the acknowledged world expert on the design of these classes of algorithms.

Adrian Johnstone is Professor of Computing. He was principal investigator on the Royal Holloway component of the EPSRC PLaNCompS project which aimed to develop modular extensible formal semantics for programming languages. He is also principal investigator for the Leverhulme Trust funded project ‘Notions and Notations: Babbage’s language of thought’ on which this talk is based.

An article about the IBM PC

Here’s a piece of paper I found in a random folder of Roger’s “stuff” in his office the other day.  It’s dated 2005, you will note.  Our own original IBM PC is currently on show in the  displays created for the Great Exhibition of the North, in the atrium of the USB.

As so often, Roger has created a superb web page for this artefact, which is worth a look at    It can be seen from this entry that Roger had the thing working, and illustrates a made-in-Newcastle editing program.