Bletchley's 50 Year Old Computer To Work Again

The Harwell, the UK’s oldest original computer, is now being sent to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley, where engineers will work to restore it to working order.

The vintage machine was originally designed back in 1949 to compute mathematical calculations, and was first used in 1951, remaining operational from then to 1973.

The state-of-the-art computer (ed: back then) is a big rack of components and measures around 2.4m x 5m. It was designed by a group of three engineers at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

It was then able to perform the function of six to ten people, and worked well for around seven years until the organisation received its first commercial computer. The Harwell was eventually superseded by transistor-based systems.

Dick Barnes, one of the engineers behind the original Harwell computer, said that the establishment research was officially intended to civilian nuclear power projects. However, the Harwell wasn’t the first computer built in the UK, but it held the reputation of one of the longest serving machines at the time.

“We knew the Manchester Baby and Cambridge's EDSAC were already up and running. Both these projects had large teams and we felt like a poor relation. Looking back, hardly any of us were computer literate and it's astonishing that we managed stored computing at all”, he told the BBC.

Our Comments

The Harwell shows how great, Great Britain, can be in the field of technology. Since the DIY computers of the 1980's, the number of true world class technology companies in the UK have shrunk to a handful. Imagination Technologies & ARM are amongst them.

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