Doors closed by COVID-19, Brit retro tech museums need your help

This hack owes it all to a dalliance with a TMS9900 40 years ago. How about you?


Times are tough for the custodians of Blighty's computing history as both the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and Cambridge's Centre for Computing History have found themselves bereft of visitors, events and income, thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. Can you help?

The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) houses an enormous variety of historic computers, including a rebuilt Colossus and the world's oldest working digital computer in the form of the WITCH (the Harwell Dekatron computer).

Housed in Block H on Bletchley Park, the museum is home to over 50,000 artefacts and, as the UK took down the bunting for the 75th anniversary of VE day, is also notable for being home to the world's only working reproduction Turing-Welchman Bombe, a device now famed for its use in deciphering German Enigma messages.

TNMOC shifted the Bombe into its new home in Block H back in 2018, after a successful Crowdfunder campaign.

The museum also features a variety of big iron from the heyday of the mainframe and minicomputer, as well as more consumer orientated machines in the form of the BBC Micro and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. And, of course, the Elliotts mentioned in our ALGOL 60 celebration.

The Centre for Computing History

Down the road in Cambridge, the Centre for Computing History (custodians of a prototype ZX Spectrum and recently lovingly recreated in Animal Crossing) has also had to close its doors and, like TNMOC, is dependant on visitors and events for its survival.

With its array of usable computer gear on display (and a recreation of a 1970s office that was all too familiar to this hack), the nondescript industrial unit was well worth a visit, just for seeing how many machines on which one could run 10 PRINT "HELLO "; 20 GOTO 10 thanks to the openness of the exhibits.

However, both TNMOC and the Centre for Computing History have been forced to pull down the shutters and, despite sterling efforts by the pair to keep up online engagement, have been forced to set up funding pages to keep things ticking over ahead of an eventual reopening.

Since many of us, this writer included, owe careers to the computers preserved within these institutions, dropping the cost of a pint of beer or two into the coffers seems thing to do. While we at El Reg tend to steer clear of crowdfunding and its ilk, we have no hesitation in recommending a quick jaunt to TNMOC's Crowdfunder (aiming for £50k) or the JustGiving page of the Centre for Computing History (targeting £36k), replete with TI99/4a front and centre.

We're looking forward to paying both institutions a visit once the doors are reopened. Just to demonstrate our "HELLO WORLD" prowess if nothing else.

"Somehow," said The Centre for Computing History on its page, "the museum WILL re-open ... and when it does we will celebrate!"

Ours will be a pint of retro Ribena when it does. ®


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