A collection of material relating to the Ferranti Pegasus ComputerFerranti Ltd
Manchester: Ferranti Computer Department. various [c1959].
There are twelve separate documents in this collection. There is a fifty-page brochure giving a description of the Ferranti Pegasus Computer with Magnetic Tape Equipment, calling it a "medium-sized general-purpose digital computer for wide application in industry, science, commerce and administration". It also has a splendid double page photograph of the room-sized machine. The booklet itself "describes the principal features of the computer as they concern the user". It aims to give a general picture of the computer but is not a "text-book for programmers". Page 9 of the booklet mentions that Ferranti provides training courses for those wishing to write programmes for the Pegasus.
Ten of the other items in this substantial collection of material about the Pegasus relate to this Ferranti programming course for the Pegasus. All are published by Ferranti Ltd. Finally, there are seventy four pages of handwritten notes taken by a student on one of the courses.
The documents include a syllabus for the course explaining the subjects to be covered. It is particularly interesting to note that on the last day of the course, students learnt about "The use of auto-coding for commercial work" from Mr C.M.Berners-Lee. Conway Berners-Lee joined Ferranti in 1953. The following year he married Mary Woods who was also working as a programmer at Ferranti. They are the parents of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
The notes (which are typed or printed on foolscap paper and stapled, save for the handwritten pages) include: "Some common errors in programming and tape punching", "A guide to the timing of programmes" (i.e. "The unit of measurement of time in a programme is the beat or word-time. This is the time taken to transfer a word from one part of the computer to another"), "Examples of Complete Problems for Programming" (which gives practical exercises), "Programming with Magnetic Tape Equipment", "Classified index of Computer Literature" (an index of documents issued by the Ferranti Computer Sales Department) and "Programming examples for the Ferranti Pegasus Computer". These notes demonstrate the importance of the educational side of the leading companies involved in the early days of computer technology. This was complex, ground-breaking work and it had to be clearly and succinctly explained. Apart from some rust marks around the staples and one or two detached leaves, this fascinating collection is in very good condition. Full details below.
The Ferranti Pegasus computer was designed in the early 1950s by a team including Christopher Strachey, the nephew of Lytton. It is described by the Science Museum (which has one as part of its permanent collection) as the first “user-friendly” computer which “addressed the early issues of how you actually work with a computer”. Although it is not the first computer, the Pegasus “shows what it was like when the computer industry was first being built up and created”. Forty Pegasus systems were sold between 1956 and 1962. It was used for large scale and quick mathematical calculations - banks were early purchasers of the Ferranti Pegasus - and in engineering design. Because it was designed for practical and commercial use, people had to be taught how to use the Pegasus and programme it for its various functions. Hence the birth of the programming courses and the writing of these notes and exercises. Reading through these complex documents before photographing them on my phone and then writing this description on my laptop, one has the sense of the beginning of a revolution. But this wasn’t the only revolution involving Ferranti and the Pegasus. It is interesting to note that a number of the lecturers on these programming courses were women which contradicts the stereotype of the male computer scientist. Initially, these women programmers (including Mary Berners-Lee) were paid less than their male equivalents on the grounds that women had always been paid less than men at Ferranti. When these scientists pointed out that most of the women at the company were secretaries, cleaners and catering staff and that the programmers were as well qualified as the male scientists and doing the same job, they were given equal pay and rights. Another new world was opening up.
A Collection of booklets and typescript and manuscript notes from the late 1950s relating to the Ferranti Pegasus Computer and to the programming course run by Ferranti.
- A description of the Ferranti Pegasus Computer with Magnetic Tape Equipment.
2nd edition. February 1958. Reprinted 1959. Hollinwood, Lancashire: Ferranti
- 50, . Blue card covers, lettered in silver, bound with staples. Fine throughout. Four black and white photographs (including one double page) of the Pegasus computer. Numerous mathematical and computer code tables.
The introduction to the booklet describes the Ferranti Pegasus Computer as a “medium-sized general-purpose digital computer for wide application in industry, science, commerce and administration”. The booklet itself “describes the principal features of the computer as they concern the user”. It aims to give a general picture of the computer but is not a “text-book for programmers”. Page 9 of the booklet mentions that Ferranti provides training courses for those wishing to write programmes for the Pegasus.
The other items in this substantial collection of material about the Pegasus all relate to the Ferranti programming course for the Pegasus. All are published by Ferranti Ltd.
- “Programming for the Ferranti Pegasus Computer”. Syllabus for Programming Course, no. 30. 15-26 February [no year]. Foolscap, six leaves typescript printed on recto only. Stapled in top left corner, rust marks from staple, first and last pages detached. This sets out the timetable and daily programme of lectures. The course starts with lectures on binary, scale, the main parts of the Pegasus, goes on to provide plenty of “Practical Classes in Programming” and by the last day, the students are learning about “The use of auto-coding for commercial work” from Mr C.M.Berners-Lee. Conway Berners-Lee joined Ferranti in 1953. The following year he married Mary Woods who was also working as a programmer at Ferranti. Their first child is called Tim.
- “Some common errors in programming and tape punching”. Sept. 1956. List CS 104.
Foolscap, four leaves, typescript notes on recto only. Bound with two staples on left edge.
- “A Simple Programme ‘Special Factorize’”. June 1957. List CS 153. (2 copies).
Foolscap, pp , 9. Bound with three staples on left edge, rust marks from the staples. “This document describes a simple complete programme for Pegasus. The programme is designed to factorize whole numbers”.
- “A guide to the timing of programmes”. June 1957. List CS. 152. Foolscap. Pp. , 3, . Bound with three staples to the left edge. The introduction to this document explains: “The unit of measurement of time in a programme is the beat or word-time. This is the time taken to transfer a word from one part of the computer to another”.
- “Examples of Complete Problems for Programming”. December 1957 (but also with a later date of 13.5.58). List CS 185. Foolscap, pp. , 23, [1 bl], 2ll (pp, 24-25). 2 staples on left edge, rust marks. Gives practical exercises to programme a computer to calculate financial and monetary transactions and to work out the amount of paint needed to paint a swimming pool.
- “Programming examples using the Matrix Interpretative Scheme”. January 1958. List CS 56a. Foolscap. ll. , 12. Typescript on recto only. Two staples on left edge, rust marks, top page detached.
- “Programming with Magnetic Tape Equipment”. May 1958 (also dated 2.6.58). List CS 195. Foolscap. Typescript. Pp. , 15, . Two staples on left edge, rust marks. This document is an extract from chapter 10 of the revised Programming Manual for the Ferranti Pegasus Computer. It describes how “magnetic tape equipment can be added at any time to a basic Pegasus installation” and “provides an auxiliary store of very large capacity”.
- “Classified index of Computer Literature”. May 1959 (also dated 19th October 1959). List CS 256. 255x205mm. Typescript. Pp. , 14, . Four staples to left edge, rust marks. This is an index of documents issued by the Ferranti Computer Sales Department (whence the “CS” numbers on all these documents). These are an extensive range of instruction manuals and guidebooks for programmers and computer technicians working with Ferranti computers in a practical work setting. They demonstrate the importance of the educational side of the leading companies involved in the early days of computer technology. This was complex, ground-breaking work and it had to be clearly and succinctly explained.
- “Programming examples for the Ferranti Pegasus Computer”. June 1959 (also dated July 1958). List CS 204. Foolscap. Typescript. Pp. , 128. Bound in pale grey card lettered in blue with the Ferranti logo printed on the upper cover. Some minor creasing and one very small closed tear to the upper cover. The introduction states: “this document contains exercises for the those learning to programme the Ferranti Pegasus Computer. The exercises are arranged in groups, each of which is designed to illustrate specific points”.
- Three loose leaves printed on recto only. Two of them, undated, are titled “Pegasus Summarised Information”. List CS 141 and CS 141A. One titled “Pegasus Autocode Instruction”. List CS 226. November 1958.
- 74 pages of handwritten notes (the first 26 pages are numbered and rest unnumbered). Two additional typescript leaves. The first page of manuscript notes is headed “Programming Course”. These are almost certainly notes taken by someone attending the course. There is no name and date. One page has some sketches and doodles, presumably made during a dull lecture.