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Issue No.01 - January (2010 vol.32)
pp: 23-33
Martyn Clark , University of Leeds
<p>Fifty years ago, a major injection of government funding allowed six UK universities to purchase commercially produced computers. The funding facilitated a significant increase in computing resources for science and engineering research in the UK. Two government agencies&#x2014;the University Grants Committee and the Advisory Committee on High Speed Calculating Machines&#x2014;played notable roles in this process.</p>
Computer science education, UK, universities, University Grants Committee, Brunt Committee
Martyn Clark, "State Support for the Expansion of UK University Computing in the 1950s", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.32, no. 1, pp. 23-33, January 2010, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2010.25
1. M. Wilkes, Memoirs of a Computer Pioneer, MIT Press, 1985.
2. J. Pinkerton, D. Hemy, and E. Lenaerts, "The Influence of the Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory on the LEO Project," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 14, no. 4, 1992, pp. 41–48.
3. S. Lavington, Early British Computers: The Story of Vintage Computers and the People Who Built Them, Manchester Univ. Press, 1980.
4. M. Croarken, "The Beginnings of the Manchester Computer Phenomenon: People and Influences," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 15, no. 3, 1993, pp. 9–16.
5. J. Hendry, "Prolonged Negotiations: The British Fast Computer Project and the Early History of the British Computer Industry," Business History, vol. 26, no. 3, 1984, pp. 280–306.
6. S. Lavington, The Pegasus Story: A History of a Vintage British Computer, Science Museum, 2000.
7. W. Aspray and B. Williams, "Arming American Scientists: NSF and the Provision of Scientific Computing Facilities for Universities, 1950–1973," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 16, no. 4, 1994, pp. 60–74.
8. As J. Carswell observes, "counting universities is a specialised art." In England, Oxford and Cambridge enjoyed a duopoly over university education for some 600 years until the establishment of universities at London (1828) and Durham (1832); in Scotland, St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Edinburgh were founded in the 15th and 16th centuries. Between 1900 and 1926 seven Redbrick universities—Birmingham (1900), Manchester and Liverpool (1903), Leeds (1904), Sheffield (1905), Bristol (1909), and Reading (1926)— were established in England but each institution had existed in a recognizable form for some years prior to formal recognition as a university; Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds had collaborated since the 1880s in the federal Victoria University. After World War II, university colleges in Nottingham (1948), Southampton (1952), Hull (1954), Exeter (1955), and Leicester (1957) were granted university status, while the University College of North Staffordshire became Keele University in 1962 and King's College, Newcastle, would separate from Durham as the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1963. Other institutions funded by the UGC in the 1950s that emerged subsequently as universities included Manchester College of Technology and the Royal College of Science and Technology, Glasgow. The federal University of Wales comprised colleges at Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, and Swansea. J. Carswell, Government and the Universities in Britain Programme and Performance 1960–1980, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985; A. Shimmin, The University of Leeds: The First Half Century, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1954; D. Jones, The Origins of Civic Universities: Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool, Routledge, 1988; Univ. Grants Committee (UGC), "University Development from 1957 to 1962," Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), 1963.
9. J. Agar, "The Provision of Digital Computers to British Universities up to the Flowers Report," The Computer J., vol. 39, no. 7, 1996, pp. 630–642.
10. P. Samet, "The Evolution of Computer Science Teaching and Research in the UK," Proc. Computers in Europe: Past, Present And Future, 1998; Samet.pdf.
11. M. Clark, "A Case Study in the Acceptance of A New Discipline," Studies in Higher Education, vol. 31, no. 2, 2006, pp. 133–148.
12. The funding arrangements for these pioneering projects differed from the processes described here: Inter alia, the Manchester project was supported by the Royal Society, and Cambridge was supported by J. Lyons & Co. (Wilkes, 1985; Simmons, 1962; Croarken, 1993).
13. J. Simmons, Leo and the Managers, Macdonald, 1962.
14. The list is not exhaustive. For example, Tony Brooker, Keith Tocher, and Sidney Michaelson had a working relay computer, ICCE 1, at Imperial College in the late 1940s and early 1950s. See gregicce.
15. A. Booth, "Computers and the University of London, 1945–1962," A History of Computing in the Twentieth Century, N. Metropolis, J. Howlett, and G. Rota eds., Academic Press, 1980.
16. J. Hendry,, "The Teashop Computer Manufacturer: J. Lyons, LEO and the Potential and Limits of High-Tech Diversification," Business History, vol. 29, no. 1, 1987, pp. 73–102.
17. For purposes of comparison, per the University Grants Committee (1963), in 1954 non-medical professorial salaries ranged from £1,900 to £2,850 and lecturers' salaries from £650 to £1,350.
18. Following revision in 1946, the UGC's terms of reference were "to enquire into the financial needs of university education in Great Britain; to advise the Government as to the application of any grants made by Parliament towards meeting them; to collect, examine, and make available information on matters relating to university education at home and abroad; and to assist, in consultation with the universities and other bodies concerned, the preparation and execution of such plans for the development of the universities as may from time to time be required in order to ensure that they are fully adequate to the national needs." UGC, "University Development from 1935 to 1947," HMSO, 1948, p. 7.
19. K.A.H. Murray (1903–1993) embarked on a promising academic career as a food economist before becoming bursar of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1937. In 1944, while absent and engaged in the war effort, he was elected rector: "with characteristic energy he remained as bursar, and in the immediate post-war years he transformed the college intellectually, socially, financially, and in sport." He became chairman of the UGC in 1952 and exerted a significant influence over the development of university education in the UK. ( G. Caston, "Murray, Keith Anderson Hope, Baron Murray of Newhaven (1903–1993)," H. Matthew, and B. Harrison eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 39, 2004, Oxford Univ. Press; Carswell's , Government and the Universities in Britain Programme and Performance 1960–1980. )
20. When the Committee made its quinquennial visit to the University of Leeds in January 1961, the nonacademic membership included "a headmistress, a Chief Education Officer, a director of a scientific research establishment, and a number of leading industrialists some of whom were formerly members of university academic staffs." A. Barr, "Current Events and Topics," Univ. of Leeds Rev., vol. VII, no. 1, 1961, p. 210.
21. B. Clark, Places of Inquiry, Univ. of Calif. Press, 1995.
22. UGC, "University Development from 1935 to 1947," HMSO, 1948.
23. UGC, "University Development from 1957 to 1962," HMSO, 1963.
24. Committee on Scientific Manpower, "Scientific Man-Power: A Report of a Committee Appointed by the Lord President of the Council," HMSO, 1946.
25. Ministry of Education, "Higher Technological Education: A Report of a Special Committee Appointed in April 1944," HMSO, 1945.
26. T. Becher and M. Kogan, Process and Structure in Higher Education, Routledge, 1992.
27. Although Small demonstrated the coexistence of digital and analogue machines during the 1950s and 1960s, lack of space precludes discussion of analogue alternatives in this article. ( J. Small, The Analogue Alternative: The Electronic Analogue Computer in Britain and the USA, 1930–1975, Routledge, 2001.)
28. Nat'l Archives, DSIR 17/813; Letter from Professors Cowling, Cox, and Ruse to 14 heads of departments at the University of Leeds "who have already envisaged important uses for an electronic computer or who at least think that the existence of a machine in the University will be beneficial," Univ. of Leeds Archive, 20 May 1955.
29. Letter from University of Glasgow Vice-Chancellor Sir Hector Hetherington to the UGC secretary, 1 Jun. 1954, Nat'l Archives, DSIR 17/813.
30. Letter from UGC Secretary Sir Edward Hale to B.K. Blount Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, 20 Jul. 1954, Nat'l Archives, DSIR 17/813.
31. Letter from UGC Secretary Sir Edward Hale to National Research and Development Corporation Managing Director Lord Halsbury, 31 Dec. 1954, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
32. Brunt (1886–1965) had joined the Meteorological Office after World War I. After a period as a visiting lecturer at Imperial College, London, Brunt was appointed a professor of meteorology in 1934. After 1945, he took a particular interest in mathematical tables and the early development of computers. P. Sheppard, "Obituary Notices Sir David Brunt KBE FRS," Quarterly J. Royal Astronomical Soc., vol. 6, nos. 3–4, 1965, pp. 379–380; O. Sutton, "David Brunt 1886–1965," Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Soc., vol. 11, 1965, pp. 41–52.
33. Lockspeiser (1891–1990) progressed from an engineering degree and service in World War I to join the Scientific Civil Service at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough. He moved to the Air Ministry in 1939 and joined the new Ministry of Aircraft production in 1941. In 1946, Lockspeiser became chief scientist at the Ministry of Supply where he "masterminded British research into problems of nuclear physics, supersonic flight and guided weapons." ( P. Masefield, "Lockspeiser, Sir Ben (1891–1990)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 39, H. Matthew, and B. Harrison, eds., Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.) On learning of the successful operation of the Manchester Baby machine, Lockspeiser quickly saw the contribution that computers could make to science and arranged for the Ministry of Supply to sponsor a collaboration between the university and Ferranti that resulted in the commercial production of the Mark I. In 1949, Lockspeiser became secretary of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, a government department with responsibility for funding research projects and research students. There he sponsored Bernard Lovell's Jodrell Bank radio telescope and the creation of the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN). ( A. Edwards, "Ben Lockspeiser, 9 March 1891–18 October 1990," Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Soc., vol. 39, 1994, pp. 246–261; P. Masefield 2004.)
34. Committee on High Speed Calculating Machines, paper 1, 31 Oct. 1949, Nat'l Archives, DSIR 10/317.
35. , At the second Committee meeting the DSIR added a second nominee, Lord Halsbury, who as head of the National Research and Development Corp., was closely involved in sponsoring UK computer engineering projects.
36. "On the advice of Sir David Brunt, we recommended a grant of £9,000 to the University of London for an electronic calculating machine at University College." Letter from UGC Secretary Sir Edward Hale to B.K. Blount DSIR, 20 Jul. 1954, Nat'l Archives, DSIR 17/813.
37. Letter from UGC Secretary Sir Edward Hale to B.K. Blount DSIR, 8 Mar. 1955.
38. Notice of the preparation of the paper was included in a letter from B.K. Blount DSIR, to UGC Secretary Sir Edward Hale, 11 Mar. 1955. Formally, the paper was delivered by Brunt to Lockspeiser, who forwarded it to the UGC.
39. Advisory Committee on High Speed Calculating Machines paper: "The Provision of Digital Computers for Universities," signed by Chairman David Brunt, 22 Feb. 1955, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
40. Letter from UGC Chairman Sir Keith Murray to Ben Lockspeiser, DSIR, 19 May 1955.
41. Letter from UGC Chairman Sir Keith Murray to Ben Lockspeiser, DSIR, 19 May 1955. Lockspeiser agreed with the UGC's position: "I concur in your assessment of the position with regard to computing machines in universities and I do not anticipate any difficulty in working things out." Letter from DSIR Secretary Ben Lockspeiser to UGC Chairman Sir Keith Murray, 16 Jun. 1955.
42. Mallaby's file note is dated 26 Apr. 1955. Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
43. Swann's letter is dated 10 May 1955, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
44. Letter from UGC Deputy Secretary George Mallaby to vice-chancellors of institutions funded by the UGC, 18 Oct. 1955, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
45. The distinction was not to be "applied mechanically" as "each case should be assessed in detail." Advisory Committee on High Speed Calculating Machines paper: "The Provision of Digital Computers for Universities," signed by David Brunt, Chairman, 22 Feb. 1955. Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
46. File note initialed "GM" (probably Deputy Secretary George Mallaby), and endorsed with the initials "EH" (probably Secretary Sir Edward Hale) 8 Aug., Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
47. The institutions were St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Exeter, Glasgow Royal Technical College, Hull, Leicester, North Staffordshire Univ. College, Nottingham, and Reading.
48. "Electronic Digital Computers," paper 5/UGC/56, Nat'l Archive, UGC 7.
49. J. Agar, p. 631.
50. Glasgow specified their machine of choice as follows: "A large machine is desired—either the Manchester Ferranti Mark I or (more preferably) a new Ferranti Mark II." Nat'l Archives, UGC 7. The Manchester design team began work on their Mark II, nicknamed MEG, in 1951 and the machine ran its first program in May 1954. This was the prototype of the Ferranti Mercury (Lavington's Early British Computers ).
51. Lavington provides a comparison of machine performance using CPU speed and online storage. Mercury had a CPU speed of 17 kilo-instructions per second and 165 Kbytes of storage. For Pegasus, the respective indicators were 3 and 25, and for Deuce 8 and 34 (Lavington's The Pegasus Story ).
52. The universities' replies are compiled in the National Archives, UGC 7/622.
53. Further details of Hodgkin's relationship with the UCLA computing team are available in G. Ferry, Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life, Granta, 1998.
54. John Simmons, the key sponsor of the computer building project at J. Lyons & Co., wrote in 1962 that "the curse of routine clerical work is that, without exercising the intellect, it demands accuracy and concentration (unlike many factory routines which are simply repetitive and at least leave the mind free to wander and daydream)." (Simmons' Leo and the Managers, p. 19. )
55. This observation may be concerned solely with research in universities, but even so it seems to underestimate the extent to which the development of LEO, the first business computer, was associated with parallel work on the application of computers in business organizations. For example, it became a cardinal principle within the LEO team that "new machinery should not be introduced without the system as a whole being re-examined." ( D. Caminer, "LEO and Its Applications: The Beginning of Business Computing," The Computer J., vol. 40, 1997, p. 587.) As early as Aug. 1949, research was underway into how the clerical work should be organized for the computer. (Simmons' Leo and the Managers. )
56. Brunt seems to have undertaken the evaluation without reference to his committee. This is revealed in a correspondence between the UGC's Murray and H.W. Melville who was Lockspeiser's successor at the DSIR. In 1960 Murray wrote, "I have spoken to Brunt himself and I find that he does not use the whole committee but relies mainly on himself and Wilkes." This confirmed Melville's earlier comment to the same effect, which had continued "several of our friends were quite hurt that the 'D.S.I.R.' should have advised the U.G.C. against their applications being granted." Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/619.
57. Letter from Advisory Committee on High Speed Calculating Machines Chairman Sir David Brunt to UCG Chairman Sir Keith Murray, 15 Feb. 1956, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
58. Letter from UGC Deputy Secretary George Mallaby to F.W. Turnbull, H.M. Treasury5 Mar. 1956, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
59. Letter from UGC Deputy Secretary George Mallaby to F.W. Turnbull, H.M. Treasury24 May 1956, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/619.
60. Note addressed to Mr. Copleston, signed D.R.W., and dated 27 Nov. 1957, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/619.
61. Note from Copleston to the chairman, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/619.
62. Note from UGC Secretary Sir Edward Hale to the chairman, 3 Dec. 1957, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/619.
63. The only other proposal based on acquiring a Deuce, from Birmingham, was also unsuccessful. I can only speculate about whether the difficulty associated with programming the Deuce was a concern of Brunt or Wilkes and whether this reflects different approaches and priorities among the computing pioneers.
64. Letter from Advisory Committee on High Speed Calculating Machines Chairman Sir David Brunt to UCG Chairman Sir Keith Murray, 15 Feb. 1955, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
65. Letter from F.F. Turnbull Treasury, to Mallaby, UGC, 21 Mar. 1956, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/618.
66. Nat'l Archives, UGC, 7/618.
67. "Electronic Digital Computers," paper 20/UGC/56, Nat'l Archives, UGC 7/619.
68. A. Temple Patterson, "The University of Southampton," Univ. of Southampton, 1962.
69. G. Lance, "Two Early Pegasus Computers in Use," 2002; .
70. P. Davidson, "Bombs, Bells and Bureaucracy," 2004;;1100370885 .
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