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Talk on Britain’s oldest computer at its former home


The WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell) was installed at what is now the University in 1957.

The computer was used as a teaching aid until 1973 and is currently being restored at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

A talk will take place at the University of Wolverhampton’s City Campus in room MC001 on Wednesday, May 26 2010 at 7pm.

The speakers are Kevin Murrell and Tony Frazer. Kevin Murrell is Secretary of the Computer Conservation Society (CCS) and one of the trustees at The National Museum of Computing. Kevin grew up in Birmingham and often used to visit Birmingham Science Museum, where the computer was displayed. Some 30 years later he rediscovered the machine in storage and began plans to have it restored to working order.

Tony Frazer is the Chairman of the Harwell Dekatron Computer project and is responsible for restoring the computer to a working machine.

School of Computing and IT Lecturer, Dr Mary Garvey, is Chair of the Wolverhampton branch of the British Computer Society and will be chairing the event. She said: “The WITCH computer is now being brought back to working order by members of the Computer Conservation Society (CCS). We thought it would be a good idea to have a talk about the restoration work at the place which was home to this historic computer for over 13 years.”

The free talk is open to all and will explore the story of the world’s most durable computer and its time at the University.

The computer dates back to 1949, when plans were drawn up for a machine to perform mathematical calculations. It first ran in 1951 and was operational at Harwell until 1957, when it was offered in a competition for colleges to see who could make best use of it.

Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College, which later became the University of Wolverhampton, won. The computer became known as the WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell) and was used in computer education until 1973.

After a period on display at Birmingham Science Museum, it was taken apart and put in storage at Birmingham City Council museums’ collection centre.


Picture: Peter Burden (left) and Frank Hawley (right) with the WITCH in 1961.

Further reading: WITCH @ Wikipedia

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