Computer ◆ Conservation ◆ Society

Computer Conservation Society celebrates its silver jubilee


The massed ranks of the CCS Committee on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Society
(courtesy Terry Froggatt).

Hailed as an outstanding success in achieving its ambitious aims, the Computer Conservation Society is 25 years of age and thriving. Millions have seen its working historic computers at close quarters in various museums across the UK and the machines it has reconstructed or restored, like Colossus, the Bombe, the Manchester Baby and EDSAC, have become world-famous.

Established in 1989, the Computer Conservation Society started as a joint venture between BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, the Science Museum and later, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. In recent years The National Museum of Computing has become a key partner.

In those 25 years, the skills and dedication of CCS volunteers have been evident in many bold and ambitious major restoration and reconstruction projects. Their work has established computer conservation standards and models that are now accepted internationally.

The first full reconstruction to be completed by the CCS was the Manchester Baby, ready in 1998 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the original computer running the first stored program. The fully working Baby still attracts large crowds at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

At Bletchley Park, two landmark CCS reconstructions are the wartime code-breaking Colossus Mark II at the National Museum of Computing at and the Bombe on display at the Bletchley Park Visitor Centre.

Restorations of original computers also include the 1950s Ferranti Pegasus and the 1960s ICT 1301 (Flossie), best known for its appearance in James Bond films.

More recent CCS projects include the restoration of the 1951 Harwell Dekatron (WITCH) computer, now recognised as the world’s oldest original working digital computer, and the ongoing reconstruction of the 1940s EDSAC computer, the first practical general purpose computer.

Sir Neil Cossons, Director of the Science Museum when CCS was founded and now Pro-Provost and Chairman of the Council of the Royal College of Art, said: “The Computer Conservation Society seemed a rather novel concept 25 years ago. Today we wouldn’t question the idea, such has been the society”s record of outstanding success and the public’s growing appreciation that the computer has a profoundly important history that needs to be captured and reflected back to us through the material evidence.”

Doron Swade, who conceived the CCS idea and co-founded the organisation with the late Tony Sale, said: “The combination of computers and conservation is a heady mix as we reflect on the extraordinary achievements of the pioneers of our digital age. At a time when many Museums are increasingly moving to computer screen-based displays rather than artifacts or working objects, the CCS is providing live access to the very machines that have enabled this trend.”

Chair of the CCS Rachel Burnett highlighted some of the benefits of CCS activities: “Computer conservation has both social and historical value. The conserved machines offer superb and unique learning opportunities. These working machines offer an unparalleled experience by showing how they actually work and what it was like to operate them. They help bridge generations and give youngsters a perspective of the unparalleled rate of change that continues in the world of computers today. Restoring and reconstructing historic machines draws people into levels of intimate detail with the machine in a way nothing else does. Operating these machines often produces unexpected findings that give greater insights. ”

Sir Neil Cossons concluded: : “Putting working historic machines in front of the public makes a vivid and lasting impact - there is nothing like the real thing. Ensuring that the real thing, expertly restored and reconstructed, can speak to future generations will be the lasting legacy of the CCS. :”

Membership of the CCS is open to anyone interested in computer conservation and the history of computing. It currently has over 1000 members world-wide.


Ten CCS Projects that have caught the public�s imagination


Machine Babbage's Analytical Engine construction
First used c1840 existed only as a design
Conservation Ongoing
Location to be decided
Machine Hartree Differential Analyser
First used 1930s
Conservation 2014 Restoration terminated
Location Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and the Science Museum
Machine Bombe Reconstruction
First used 1940
Conservation 2007
Location Bletchley Park Trust
Machine Colossus Rebuild
First used 1944
Conservation 2007
Location The National Museum of Computing
Machine Manchester Baby reconstruction
First used 1948
Conservation 1998
Location Manchester Museum of Science and Industry
Machine EDSAC reconstruction
First used 1949
Conservation Ongoing
Location The National Museum of Computing
Machine Harwell Dekatron / WITCH restoration
First used 1951
Conservation 2012
Location The National Museum of Computing
Machine Pegasus restoration
First used 1959
Conservation 2014 Restoration terminated
Location Science Museum and Manchester Museum of Science and Industry
Machine ICT 1301 / Flossie restoration
First used 1962
Conservation 2004-2012
Location In storage at The National Museum of Computing
Machine Elliott 803 restoration
First used 1962
Conservation Ongoing
Location The National Museum of Computing
Machine ICL 2966 restoration
First used 1985
Conservation Ongoing
Location The National Museum of Computing