The Staffordshire University Computing Futures Museum Borehamwood Page
Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd was a long established electrical instruments business which played an early role in the development of computers in the United Kingdom. Significant dates from the timeline of this company are:
Elliott Brothers was a pioneer of Head-up displays (HUDs).
- 1804: Business founded by William Elliott in Tash Street, Gray's Inn, London as a maker of drawing instruments. William Elliott did not finish his apprenticeship until 1802, and did not become free until 1804.
- 1816: Manufacturer of telescopes and barometers, etc.
- By 1827 the business had been moved to a shop and workshop in High Holborn.
- 1850: The business moved to 56, Strand, London. Willliam took his sons, Charles and Frederick William, into partnership. The business began to manufacture instruments for surveying, for railways (e.g. steam pressure indicators) and scientific instruments of all kinds.
- 1853: William Elliott died; his sons continued the business as Elliott Brothers
- In the second half of the 19th century the business began manufacturing electrical instruments.
- 1900: The business moved to new premises at Century Works, Connington Road, Lewisham, and began making speedometers and instruments for ships and aircraft.
- 1912: The business supplied flight instrument panels for use in Army aircraft.
- 1914: World War I: As Electrical and mechanical engineers, the business's specialities were ships' logs, gyro-compasses for use on battleships, accelerometers, gradometers, and all kinds of speed indicators, recorders, switchboard instruments, and telegraph apparatus etc. The firm had 400 to 500 employees.
- 1916: Elliott Brothers became a Private Company.
- World War II: Manufactured parts for armaments equipment.
- 1945: The Company went public.
1946 Research laboratories were set up at Elstree Way, Borehamwood.
- 1947: The company began to manufacture computers and flight automation equipment (made at Rochester).
- 1950: The first Elliott 152 computer appeared
- 1950: Elliott Automation was formed.
- 1953: After a difficult few years post-war, whilst the company was being redirected from armaments work to civilian products, Elliott Brothers had made profits in 1951 and 1952. It now took the opportunity to raise funds for investment with the issue of new shares.
- 1960: The well-known computer scientist, Sir Tony Hoare, was an employee from August 1960 for 8 years. He wrote an ALGOL 60 compiler for the Elliott 803 and also worked on an operating system (Elliott 503 Mark II), although this was less successful and abandoned along with "over thirty man-years of programming effort."
- 1963: R. John Lansdown (1929 - 1999) pioneered the use of computers as an aid to planning; making perspective drawings on an Elliott 803 computer, modelling a building's lifts and services, plotting the annual fall of daylight across its site, as well as authoring his own computer aided design applications. He was later Professor Emeritus at Middlesex University and subsequently the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts was named after him. Lansdown began his career as an architect in the early 1960s and soon began using computing technology in his work. His interest in computers soon spread to his other interests in the arts and in 1968 he co-founded the Computer Arts Society in the UK along with Alan Sutcliffe and George Mallen. Lansdown's archive was donated to Middlesex University where it now resides in the Library stack. From 2012 Dr Stephen Boyd Davis (now Royal College of Art) and Dr Simone Gristwood received funds from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Architecture in order to investigate and study the archive. It has been found that the archive contains many important documents and records relating to the wide and varied interests of Lansdown, including Architecture, Artificial Intelligence, Performance Art, Dance and Poetry. The collection contains works not only by Lansdown himself, but by other known pioneers of British Computer Art, such as Colin Emmett and Harold Cohen. Lansdown’s work in an international context, particularly his contributions to debates on both sides of the Atlantic, and his extensive writings and educational work, are also a fundamental component of this archive.
- 1966: The company established an integrated circuit design and manufacturing facility in Glenrothes, Scotland, followed by a MOS semiconductor research laboratory. The Glenrothes site was closed in 1969 following the take over of English Electric by GEC.
- 1967: In the first deal arranged by the Industrial Reorganization Corporation, English Electric took over Elliott Automation to form the leading European group in computing and process control.
- 1968: English Electric Computers Ltd was taken over by International Computers and Tabulators (ICT); this amalgamation was forced by the British Government, who believed that the UK required a strong national computer company. The combined company was called International Computers Ltd (ICL). English Electric retained the military and industrial automation activities of its Marconi and Elliott Automation subsidiaries.
- 1968: GEC took over English Electric.
- 1969: GEC reorganised the businesses it had acquired from Elliott-Automation, English Electric, AEI, Marconi and GEC. In electronics, GEC-Marconi Electronics was created with four subidiaries: Marconi-Elliott Avionics Systems Limited, GEC-Elliott Space and Weapons Systems, Marconi Communications Systems and Marconi Radar Systems. GEC-Elliott Automation Ltd comprised the automation and control activities of the predecessor companies. The real-time computer part of Elliott Automation remained, and was renamed Marconi Elliott Computer Systems Limited in 1969 and GEC Computers Limited in 1972, and remained in the original Borehamwood research laboratories until the late 1990s. The agreement which governed the split of computer technologies between the two companies disallowed ICT from developing real-time computer systems and disallowed Elliott Automation from developing data processing computer systems for a few years after the split. The remainder of Elliott Automation which produced aircraft instruments and control systems was retained by English Electric.
The following Elliott computer models were produced:
Elliott 152 Naval Gunnery Control Computer (1947)
Elliott Nicholas (1952)
Elliott/NRDC 401 (1953)
Elliott 153 (DF computer) (1954)
- Elliott/GCHQ OEDIPUS (1954)
- Elliott 402 (1955)
- Elliott 403 (WREDAC) (1956)
- Elliott 405 (1956)
- Elliott 802 (1958 - 1961) 6 were sold
- Elliott 803 (1959) about 250 sold, mainly 803B:
803A had 4 or 8K of 39 bit words of memory and all internal data was held in a single 102 bit long serial path.
803B had 4 or 8K of 39 bit words of memory. The single data path was split into several shorter (48 bit long) serial paths to reduce instruction execution time. A hardware floating point option was available.
- Elliott ARCH 1000 (1962)
- Elliott 503 (1963) software compatible with 803
Elliott 900 series (1963)
- Elliott 920 (used by Marconi Elliott Avionic Systems, at Elstree, in the Radar Research Lab, in the late 1970s)
- Elliott 502 (1964)
- Elliott 4100 series (1966)
An Elliott 4130 was used at RAF Finningley near Doncaster (now the Robin Hood Airport) to drive a duplicated system of cubicles fitted out as navigator stations for the later ill-fated Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft (modified Comets). The instructor could load a sortie and the 4130 would then "fly" it. Student navigators had to maintain a running plot, produce estimates and steering commands, interpret simulated radar images, and generally maintain an awareness of aircraft location. This 4130 was in service during the 1960s and 1970s, and had ferrite core memory, a teletype, two large fixed disc packs, a paper tape punch, a paper tape reader, and binary toggle input switches on the engineers' panel. A large incremental plotter was mounted in front of the instructor's station, on which the progress of the sortie could be monitored. The ferrite core storage was later upgraded to semiconductor memory, and the teletype was replaced by a text-output video terminal. The system was booted by hand: a short bootloader was toggled in from the engineers' panel, which then allowed a rudimentary operating system to be read in from paper tape, which in turn loaded the full operating system from disc. Maintenance of programs, and system diagnostics, were performed by a CP/M microcomputer connected to the CPU using a serial interface.
The Elliott 4130 at Finningley was still in use in 1990 in its upgraded (semiconductor memory, video terminal) form. It was still on site in 1995, but RAF Finningley was decommissioned in 1996, becoming the civil Robin Hood Airport. The School of Navigation at RAF Finningley, to which the 4130 navigation simulator belonged, then moved to No. 6 Flying Training Squadron at RAF Cranwell.
SUCFM is grateful for information on Elliott Brothers received from Ron Bristow (Elliott Bros 1951 - 1953 and 1955 - 1993, and sometime Custodian of the Elliott Archive and Historical Collection, now at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science). For a properly researched account of the Company see Dr Gloria Clifton, Bulletin of the Scientific Society, Bulletin No. 36 (March 1993), and her book Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550 - 1851.
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The Staffordshire University Computing Futures Museum Borehamwood Page to Dr John Wilcock
05 18 September 2014 updated by Dr John Wilcock