A Glint on the Horizon

Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)


John Coales was 40 years old when he arrived for his first day as Director of Elliott’s Borehamwood Research Laboratory in October 1946.


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    In 1928 John Coales was a co-founder of the group of English Country Dancers called the Cambridge Round. After the War, Coales hosted groups of ex-Cambridge dancers at Oakwood, his large house at Radlett, beginning in August in 1947 and subsequently at various times through to 1952. See http://www.srcf.ucam.org/round/history/coales for a history of the Cambridge University Morris Dancing group
  5. 5.
    RE (Bob) Ford (1995) Eight-page letter of Borehamwood anecdotes sent to Laurence Clarke and dated 18 Dec 1995Google Scholar
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    Alison Steer (née Coales) (2003) Conversations with Simon Lavington on 10 Dec 2003 and inspection of certain of John Coales’ personal papersGoogle Scholar
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    John Bunt (1995) Un-titled and un-dated four-page typed notes of his time at Borehamwood. Almost certainly sent to Lawrence Clarke with an accompanying letter dated 16 Oct 1995Google Scholar
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    PD (Peter) Atkinson (1995) Letter to Laurence Clarke dated 16 Oct 1995Google Scholar
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    WH (Bill) Pearse (1995) Letter to Laurence Clarke dated 9 Oct 1995Google Scholar
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    Commander Henry Pasley-Tyler CBE (1995) Un-dated audio-recording of an interview with Laurence Clarke. It may be inferred from letters to Laurence that this interview took place some time between 1 Feb 1995 and 24 May 1995, at which time he was 84 years old. Pasley-Tyler died in Dec 1995Google Scholar
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    JF Coales (1946) Elliott Research Laboratory – Borehamwood 1946. Seven types pages and eight hand-written pages, covering the period mid-July 1945 to autumn 1946. Sent with an accompanying letter to S L H Clarke on 29 Apr 1998. A copy of the document exists in the Archive of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, catalogue number SC168/1/6/2/3. In the accompanying letter, John Coales says that he hopes to continue writing about Borehamwood “because there is a lot during the next two years including the security problems and relationships with BTM etc. that now only I know about”. He explains in the letter that he has not been in good health. John Coales died on 6 June 1999, aged 92, having been unable to continue his accountGoogle Scholar
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    John Bunt (1994) Four-page typed manuscript of Borehamwood anecdotes, enclosed with a letter to Laurence Clarke dated 9 Nov 1994Google Scholar
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    Alan Essex (1995) Letter to Laurence Clarke dated 16 May 1995 enclosing 13 hand-written pages of Borehamwood anecdotesGoogle Scholar
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    Arthor Hemingway (1995) Letter dated 2 Nov 1995 to Laurence Clarke, enclosing five hand-written pages of Borehamwood anecdotesGoogle Scholar
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    CA (Alec) Cochrane (1994/1995) Letters to Laurence Clarke dated 14 Nov 1994 and 9 Oct 1995. The latter contains most of the historically important informationGoogle Scholar
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    JE (Jack) Pateman (1994/1995) Letters dated 4 Nov 1994 and 7 Dec 1995, the latter with enclosed pages of Borehamwood anecdotesGoogle Scholar
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    No comprehensive biography of W S Elliott has come to light. In order of relevance to Borehamwood, the following references are of some use: (a) Ian Merry, July 2000, A memorabilia of W S Elliott, physicist, Engineer and Professor Emeritus. 2.5 page typed manuscript, dated July 2000 and copied to Simon Lavington. (b) “Professor W S Elliott and the Elliott-NRDC 401 computer”. St Catherine’s College Magazine, Cambridge. (Date and author unknown). (c) H McGregor Ross, obituary of W S Elliott, IEE News, Nov 2000, page 11. (d) Hannah Gay, History of Imperial College, 1907–2007. Published in 2007 by Imperial College PressGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Audio tape of John Coales in conversation with Laurence Clarke, date unknown (but probably February 1995 or a little later). Duration: about 60 minutes, not all of which is relevant. This audio recording was made at a time when Laurence Clarke, with the approval of John Coales, was assembling material for a book about the history of the Borehamwood Laboratories. In the event, Laurence Clarke abandoned his project at the end of 1996 and passed his historical material to Simon Lavington on 10 July 2001Google Scholar
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    WE (Ben) Bennett (1994/1995) Letters to Laurence Clarke dated 5 Oct 1994 and 5 Jan 1995, the latter including two typed pages of historical notesGoogle Scholar
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    Foolscap hard-bound ledger entitled Official Secrets Acts, containing the names, dates and signatures of employees at Borehamwood. This book was recovered from the Strong Room at Borehamwood in 2003, at the time when the few remaining documents were being consigned to the rubbish skipGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Copies of notes and papers resulting from discussions between JF Coales and Pennington & Son, solicitors, of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, between Mar and Oct 1948. Sent by JF Coales to SLH Clarke on 10 Feb 1995. Copies of most of these papers are also held in the Archives of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, under catalogue number SC168/1/6/2/1Google Scholar
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    Laurence Clarke (2009) E-mail to Simon Lavington dated 14 Oct 2009Google Scholar
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    Maurice Needham (2007) Telephone conversation with Simon Lavington on 26 July 2007Google Scholar
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    ND (Norman) Hill (1995) A personal account of the early history of Elliott Brothers research laboratories. 6-page typed manuscript and accompanying letter to Laurence Clarke, dated 9 May 1995Google Scholar
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    The National Archive, file ADM 220/1668: Report on the visit to the United States in August and September 1944 of J F Coales and H C Calpine of the Admiralty Signal Establishment, with Mr H Clausen of the Naval Ordnance Department. Document dated Nov 1944Google Scholar
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    RB (Bob) Nichols (1995) Letter dated 19 Oct 1995 enclosing three typed pages of historical notes, sent to Laurence Clarke. Nichols joined Borehamwood towards the end of 1947, first in the Instruments Division and then moving to the radar group to work on MRS5Google Scholar
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    Cochrane CA (1953) Netting Trials: final report. Borehamwood Research Report number 298, 5 June 1953Google Scholar
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    HG (Harry) Carpenter. Notes taken by Simon Lavington of nine lengthy telephone conversations with Harry Carpenter, during the period 16 May 2000 to 9 Dec 2002. Harry was unwilling to commit his historical anecdotes to paper but was more than happy to talk. Part way through these exchanges, in Nov 2001, Harry obtained clearance under the provisions of the Official Secrets Act to reveal certain details about his hardware design activities at Borehamwood (see also Chapter 3). More generally, Harry’s reticence to write down anecdotes about Borehamwood was explained in a letter to Laurence Clarke, dated 10 Nov 1994: “I have never disguised the fact that I feel the organisational structure of the RLEB [Research Labs of Elliott Brothers] was badly flawed and ill-suited to the kind of development work we were trying to do (with, incidentally, an impossible time-scale)....‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’”
  41. 41.
    DBG Edwards, conversations with Simon Lavington, 2006–2008. (Dai Edwards joined Professor F C Williams’ computer design team at Manchester University in Sept 1948, having graduated in Physics. Edwards remained at the forefront of computer design at Manchester University, becoming Professor of Computer Engineering in 1966 and retiring with the title Emeritus Professor in 1988). Google Scholar
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    Coales JF (1972, Jan) Computers and the professional engineer. Proc IEE119(1):1–16Google Scholar
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    Hersom SE (2002) Nicholas, the forgotten Elliott project. Resurrection, the Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society, Issue number 27, spring 2002, pp 10–14Google Scholar
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    Turing AM (1937) On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem. Proc Lond Math Soc 42(2):230–265. Corrigenda in Vol 43, pp 544–546Google Scholar
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    Clarke SLH (August 1975) The Elliott 400 series and before. Radio Electron Eng 45(8):415–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    (a) Anon, 150 years of instrument making. Unsigned article in The Elliott Journal, vol. 1 number 1, March 1951, pp 3–10. (b) Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd.: large advertisement placed in The Times newspaper of Monday May 11 1953, “issued in compliance with the Regulations of the Council of the Stock Exchange, London, for the purpose of giving information to the public with regard to the Company”. In the matter of factory floor space, this advertisement gives the following figures: (i) Century Works, Lewisham, floor space of about 155,000 square feet. (ii) A factory at Rochester, Kent, is occupied under tenancy from the Ministry of Supply at an annual rental of £12,200. The premises consist of a modern single-storey building with a floor area of about 185,000 square feet. (iii) A research establishment at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, is housed in a modern building with a floor space of approximately 80,000 square feet, under tenancy from the Admiralty at an annual rent of £8,750 Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    The National Archive, file ADM 178/309: Report on morale and output of Elliot Bros Ltd: suggestions for improvement, 1943. Produced by the Director of Naval Ordnance, September 1943, DNO. Note: this file was originally marked as ‘Secret: closed until 2043’Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Correspondence with the Ministry of Defence and associated government departments, in a confidential file labelled From Commander H Pasley-Tyler’s Lewisham files, 1950 – 1956, formerly kept in the Strong Room at BorehamwoodGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Letter from J F Coales to S L H Clarke dated 10 Feb 1995, containing copies of papers written by JF Coales between Nov 1947 and 24 Feb 1948. The papers include the 16-page document entitled Proposals for setting up the Research Laboratories of Elliott Brothers (London) Limited, Borehamwood as a separate company, written in January 1948Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Hugh McGregor Ross (1994) Letter to W S (Bill) Elliott, dated 1 Jan 1994Google Scholar
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    Hugh McGregor Ross (1994) After the Elliott 400 series. Resurrection, the Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society, Issue number 9, spring 1994Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Interpretations of this incident differ. In an e-mail to Simon Lavington dated 14 Oct 2009, Laurence Clarke remarked that he and Andrew St Johnston always found Lotti Ross “to be scrupulously polite”. The incident itself is not deniedGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Laurence Clarke (2009) E-mail dated 29 June 2009, sent to Simon LavingtonGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Internal memo dated 5 Oct 1951, from Leon Bagrit to JF Coales and Mr Wykeham: “Confidential. Arising out of the meeting held at Century Works on Friday the 28 September 1951, I confirm that as from Monday the 8 October 1951, Mr Coales will carry out the duties of Research Director of the Company and Mr Wykeham will assume the title and function of General Manager, Research Laboratories, Borehamwood” Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    JF Coales (1994) Transcript of an interview by William Asprey of the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 21 Mar 1994. A copy of this is in the Archives of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, catalogue number SC168/1/6/2/4Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Laurence Clarke (2009) E-mail to Simon Lavington dated 14 Oct 2009Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    The following sources have been used to obtain figures for the company’s pre-tax profits: (a) A three-quarters page advertisement in The Times newspaper for Monday 11 May 1953, which gives a brief history of the company together with detailed financial detail for the years 1943–1952. (b) London Stock Exchange Yearbook for 1954 onwards (available at the Guildhall Library). Elliott’s shares were first quoted on the London Stock Exchange in 1953, so the Yearbook gives financial information for Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd. from 1953 onwards. (c) Additional financial information may be gleaned from the surviving Elliott-Automation Annual Reports. Those for the years 1958 to 1966 have thus far come to lightGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer London 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Computer Science and Electronic EngineeringUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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