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UK's National Museum of Computing celebrates 10 glorious years

Preserving Britain’s crucial contribution to IT

The National Museum of Computing (TNMoC), which yesterday celebrated its tenth anniversary as an independent organisation, will this coming weekend formally inaugurate a new membership club for enthusiasts of Britain’s computing heritage, and supporters of the museum.

The decade has not been without its growing pains, among them the sudden death of the founder, and a high-profile quarrel with the owner of the site on which the museum is located.

But in that time, TNMoC has established itself as one of the country’s key preservers of historical computer hardware and communicators of Britain’s rich information technology heritage.

The TNMoC Members’ Club builds on an existing membership run primarily as a means of acknowledging individuals’ donations to the upkeep of the Museum, which is situated within Bletchley Park – World War II’s ‘Station X’ – but since 2005 has been run separately.

Newly elected Club Chairman and Interim Treasurer John Linford says: “When I joined just over a year ago, I couldn’t believe the club was so small. So I started working with the staff here to see if we could find ways of changing that. There was no clear idea what the club was for other than giving the museum a bit of money every year.”

Like Linford, many of the TNMoC’s 210 members, of whom 40 attended an open day and inaugural AGM this weekend to rubber-stamp the new club, are current and former technology professionals who came to the museum’s aid just over a year ago when its existence appeared threatened during a major spat with the Bletchley Park Trust, which owns the Bletchley Park site and runs it as a museum dedicated to the efforts of the justly celebrated World War II codebreakers.

That endeavour culminated in the development of Colossus, the World’s first electronic digital programmable computer. The ten Colossi built between 1943 and 1945 and put to work at Bletchley Park were all dismantled and completely destroyed immediately after the conclusion of the conflict.

However, in 1994, the year the Bletchley Park site was opened to the public, assembly work began on the reconstruction of one Colossus, under the auspices of TNMoC founder Tony Sale.

Sale, who died in 2011, intended that the complete, working Colossus would not merely highlight the achievement of the Bletchley Park boffins and Post Office technicians who designed and built the original machines, but would also serve as the opening chapter in a story of Britain’s post-War contributions to the development of digital computing.

“The roots of the computer museum were actually put down in 1994,” says Margaret Sale, Tony’s widow and honorary President of the new TNMoC Members’ Club. “There were two steel beams which ended up being part of Colossus’ ‘bedstead’ and of course the Elliot 803 [a British mainframe from the 1960s]."

Next page: Colossi problem

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