The National Museum of Computing

by WordChazer

Why you should visit The National Museum of Computing in the grounds of Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes.

The Vintage Computer Festival would not have been able to take place without the assocation of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), located at Bletchley Park and responsible for the upkeep of an enviable collection of old computer and early electronic equipment. Bletchley was an ideal location for such an event and the perfect place for this museum, given the site's importance as a codebreaking centre in World War II and its fame as the home of Colossus.

The photo is available via Wikimedia and was taken by Adam Bradley (Computid) in August 2009.

The Museum was opened to festival visitors for the weekend and provided a further chance to indulge in unrestrained geekiness and nerddom as well as gain an appreciation of electronics, computer pioneers and code-breaking. The exhibition space is mainly given over to business-related machines but also has some early examples of personal computing devices.

Colossus, Bletchley Park's most famous resident
Colossus, Bletchley Park's most famou...
Photo via Wikimedia, in the public do...
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The History of Computing and Electronics

Slowly wending their way through a rabbit warren of small rooms, visitors can follow the history of technology. They will see slide rules, early calculators, huge analogue modems and ‘floppy’ disks with cases made of cardboard, not plastic. They will then file slowly past screens showing examples of screen burn when they were left on for too long (this was well before screen savers!) analogue modems, mainframes half the size of the room and five foot tall supercomputers that could be a prop from 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Black Hole. There are examples of early business PCs, Palms and basic laptops.

Part of the Museum presents the inventions leading to what is now called ‘the internet’, whilst another has been given over to boards detailing year-by-year the developments in world and UK history, entertainment and sport in parallel with those in personal computing. Nearby is a range of restored machines set up to play popular retro games. The next room showcases a number of partially restored punch card machines, which were capable of sorting cards punched in a certain way automatically, some at around 400 cards a minute.

Air Traffic Control, IT @ Work, then Mainframes and BeAware

At the time of the visit in 2010, the exhibit on the history of IT in the workplace was under renovation and the door to that room was firmly shut, with just a tantalising cartoon announcing TNMOC’s plans. The Air Traffic Control and Flight Simulation area was, however, fully functioning and proving popular, displaying the flight traffic live over Bletchley as well as allowing visitors to try out various computerised simulators.

The arresting site of a fast jet sat outside the National Museum of Computing History
The arresting...
Paula Thomas,...
That supercomputer is as tall as me...
That supercom...
Paula Thomas,...
All in one - the days before flat screens
All in one - ...
Paula Thomas,...

The Harwell-WITCH, the Elliott 803B and an ICL 2966

The massive mainframes are in several adjoining rooms. These include the Harwell-WITCH, the Elliott 803B and an ICL 2966. The Project Managers for these restorations were often called upon during the course of the weekend to demonstrate their respective charges and give brief presentations explaining their work. The Tunny machinery, which tested the work done by Colossus, has a small area to itself next to an informative display from BeAware highlighting the safety aspect to using the internet and how to keep your personal data safe.

Newman, the Cambridge Connection and Colossus

The final series of rooms is given over to the history behind Colossus and its scientists, including a feature on Max Newman, graduate of St Johns in Cambridge, then a chance to see (and hear) the machine itself flashing and clicking away cracking codes.

All in all, a very worthwhile, informative and educational few hours can be spent looking around the many galleries in the National Museum of Computing. This is an essential visit for anyone whose interest lies anywhere within computing as well as for those wishing to learn about Britain’s foremost place in the development of this technology.

Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing are easily accessible from the M1 and the railway station is opposite the main gates. Parking costs £3.00 per car and there are many other attractions within the grounds which there just wasn't enough time to see during the weekend.

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This article originally appeared on on 25 June 2010. It was removed at the writer's request in February 2013, and appears here with slight revision and additional photographs.

Updated: 12/25/2013, WordChazer
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WordChazer on 09/11/2013

They already have, olosinquito. Perhaps not as widely collected as antiques but the director of the Centre for Computing History has a very successful business loaning kit out for period TV shows and videos.

ologsinquito on 09/11/2013

I love that old picture. It's hard to fathom that computers may even become collectibles as antiques.

WordChazer on 07/31/2013

*Grin*. That's one of mine too. I WILL post more articles - I have dozens to get out there. It's just gone a bit manic round here lately and I haven't found time to publish for a while. Plenty written, mind.

cmoneyspinner on 07/30/2013

@WordChazer - I don't dare tell you some of names used to label me. Let's just say "nuisance" is one of nicer ones. :) Looking forward to more of your articles.

WordChazer on 07/29/2013

*Grin*. Hey, cmoneyspinner, if a nerd is the worst name you ever call me, I won't be insulted. (Others might be, but you speak an element of truth when labeling me thus.) Dork isn't used in my circle, so it probably does have meanings I don't know of.

cmoneyspinner on 07/29/2013

Really! (???) I didn't know know nerd was an insult. I thought nerd and geek went together. My kids call each other dorks. I thought dork was the insulting term. Sorry. Didn't mean to offend. Thanks for straightening me out. I'll watch my step in the future. :)

WordChazer on 07/28/2013

I'm a geek, bordering on the nerdish. I have some social skills and enjoy techy stuff, computers, science fiction and am slightly obsessive about writing. Therefore I self define as a geek. A nerd is defined as one who has no social skills and can often be applied to hikikomori. I can reach a point where I have had too much of the world and just want to shut myself off and write, so I do border on the nerdish. Geek is a badge worn with pride. Nerd is generally regarded as an insult.

I'll DM you about the rest of your comment.

cmoneyspinner on 07/27/2013

This article clearly shows you're a nerd/geek and proud of it! Good stuff!

P.S. Would be good to transfer my Suite101 articles here. Never thought about it because the last time I signed in there was a message about no editing allowed. I'm not sure I could even access my articles. But the work is still visible to the public so I have no complaints and left them there. If the entire website disappears I'll be very upset!!

JoHarrington on 03/16/2013

Consider this day trip sold. I really want to go there now!

EliasZanetti on 03/06/2013

Super cool. Had no idea they actually has a museum for... the love of computers but it actually makes perfectly sense! Nice post.

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