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Birkbeck College, University of London


In 1823 George Birkbeck, an early pioneer of adult education, founded the London Mechanics Institute at a meeting at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand. Over two thousand people attended. However the idea was not universally popular, and some accused Birkbeck of "scattering the seeds of evil." In 1825 the Institute moved to Southampton Buildings on Chancery Lane. In 1830, the first female students were admitted. In 1858 changes to the University of London's structure opened up access to the examinations for its degree, resulting in the Institute became a main provider of part-time university education. The Institute changed its name to the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution in 1866 and in 1885 it moved to the Breams Building on Fetter Lane. The early twentieth century saw further developments. Birkbeck Students' Union was established in 1904, and in 1907 the Institute changed its name once more to Birkbeck College. Meanwhile the University of London had been restructured in 1900, and in 1913 it was successfully recommended that Birkbeck should become a constituent college, although the outbreak of the First World War delayed this until 1920. The Royal Charter for the college was granted in 1926. During the Second World War Birkbeck was the only central University of London college to not relocate out of the capital. In 1941 the library suffered a direct hit during The Blitz but teaching continued. In 1952, the College moved to its present location between Malet Street and Woburn Square in Bloomsbury, and there are other buildings on nearby streets. In 1988 the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of the University of London was incorporated into Birkbeck, becoming first the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, then the Faculty of Continuing Education, the School of Continuing Education, and finally the Faculty of Lifelong Learning. In 2002 the Institution dropped the word College to become simply Birkbeck, University of London. However, the term Birkbeck College is still often colloquially used, and survives on the fašade of the main building itself.


Dr Andrew Donald Booth (1918 - 2009) was a British electrical engineer, physicist and computer scientist who researched at Birkbeck, and invented the Magnetic Drum Memory.


1947 Booth Magnetic Drum

In 1945 Booth began to construct the automatic relay All Purpose Electronic Computer (APEC) computers. Each model had an additional letter in parentheses, e.g. the first model was the 1949 APE(X)C, for use in Bernal and Booth's X-ray crystallography research.


The 1949 APE(X)C computer at Birkbeck in 1956

BTM used the APE(X)C hardware as the basis of their

HEC1 computer, which by 1956 had evolved into HEC4, renamed as the

ICT 1201 after BTM had become part of International Computers and Tabulators (ICT).

The 1952 APE(R)C was for the British Rayon Research Association.

Booth failed to make a workable disk because of the limitations of technology in the late 1940s.

Booth also invented a parallel multiplier which still forms the basis for the multiplication ciruitry in a modern computer (Booth's Multiplication Algorithm).

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Version: 02 23 June 2010 updated by Dr John Wilcock