History of Computing Collection: The National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) Collection

Scope and Content

All the papers in this collection refer to the National Research Development Corporation's involvement in the development of computing. The files remain in their original boxes. The former IEE references are given for information.

Administrative / Biographical History

The National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) was a government body set up in 1949 to encourage and stimulate the development of the British computer industry. The Corporation, headed by its Managing Director, the Rt Hon. The Earl of Halsbury, employed Dr Dennis Hennessey and H.J. Crawley, and a number of computer experts, including Christopher Strachey.

The NRDC became directly involved with computer industry by placing contracts, its first, in 1951, was between Ferranti and Manchester University, with an investment of £400,000. In 1953 Elliott Bros were contracted, later transferred to Ferranti, at a cost of £500,000. This contract resulted in Pegasus. NRDC's next contract (£620,000) went to EMI for its 1100 and 2400 computers. Attempts to catch up with the US also led to the NRDC supporting the ATLAS project, based at Manchester University.

Alongside these activities the Corporation also underwrote the unsucessful attempts of Pye Ltd and Epsylon Ltd, to develop magnetic tape storage devices. In computer applications, it rented an Elliott 401 to Rothamsted Experimental Station; and purchased an Elliott 405 for installation at Siemens Ltd telephone works at Woolwich for production control. In 1959-60 it launched a third initiative in production control, the ARCH project. In 1958, a prototype EMI computer was installed at Austin's Longbridge works as part of Corporation's funding of the EMIDEC 2400 development. It also funded a short study of the possible uses of computers in the shipbuilding industry. Smallscale, but important, attempts were made to establish a British computer community.

Between 1953 and 1959 the NRDC made computer science studentships available at Cambridge and Manchester universities. It provided temporary premises and support for the British Computer Society in 1957-8; and helped in the organisation of the 1958 computer exhibition at Olympia. The NRDC also exploited its patent holdings, by 1956 it had administered 733 computer patents resulting from 201 inventions. The sale of the Manchester patents to IBM, for example, had netted £125,712 by end of 1956, and a sum well in excess of £101,000 had been paid out in patent fees by 1957. In 1957 the Corporation created a Patents Pool for the common use of the British computer industry.

During the 1950s computer development was the single most important aspect of the NRDC's activities, spending, in 1954, £325,000 of its £928,000 budget on computers. Around 1960, after advice from the Government, the Corporation withdrew from mainstream computer activity. However, after the return of the Labour Government in 1965, it provided £5 million to finance further development of the ICT 1900 series. The Corporation's main involvement in the 1970s was in supporting developments in software, through its wholly-owned subsidiary companies, Genesys Ltd and Compeda Ltd.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Institution of Electrical Engineers, London.

Related Material

See also NAHC records of Ferranti Ltd (ref.: GB 133 NAHC/FER ).


John Hendry, Innovating for Failure: Government Policy and the Early British Computer Industry (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990).

Geographical Names