ELLIOT, William Sydney

Scope and Content

Papers of William Sydney Elliott 1917 - 2000, comprising biographical material, papers relating to his war time work including radio-operated fuze and radar including anti-clutter, 1940 - 1946. The documentation comprises correspondence, manuscript and typescript drafts and copies of reports and memoranda. There is also later (to 1993) correspondence and papers relating to the history of radar.

Substantial papers on his early computer work, relating principally to developments at Elliott Brothers and Ferranti Ltd. They include a few original documents, more photocopied material and an extensive late correspondence with fellow computer pioneers and others interested in computer history with manuscript notes of recollections etc, 1948-1996.

There are only three item relating to his time at Cambridge University.

Papers relating to his work at Imperial College London focusing less on his research and more the on his teaching commitments to computer science for the period 1970 - 1972. The research records relate to work funded by Science Research Council and the Department of Trade and Industry. There are manuscripts and typescript drafts, transparencies hand-outs etc for Elliott's teaching on computer architecture and computer design, and CAD and graphics, 1974 - 1983.

Papers relating to lectures, document a number of Elliott's invitations and public lectures, 1962 - 1990. Topics include the computer industry, computer manufacture, CAD and early computer history and several visits to Australia are represented by lectures material.

Publications including a set of off-prints and photocopies of Elliott's publications, 1940-1978, and correspondence and drafts relating to publications, 1968 - 1989.

Papers relating to visits and conferences presents documentation of a small number of visits made and conferences attended, 1949 - 1985. The most substantial documentation relates to Sperry-Univac symposia on CAD and CAE (computer aided engineering) in 1981 and 1982 and a symposium organised by the Fellowship of Engineering on the social and cultural challenge of modern technology in 1983.

Substantial papers relating to his advisory and consultancy work. There are records of Elliott's role as adviser to the government departments on computer matters, especially the Ministry of Technology, 1966 - 1969, and the Ministry of Industry 1976. There are extensive records of Elliott's consultancy work in CAD and the development of automatic office systems. Companies and organisations represented include Lloyd's Register of Shipping, European Space Research Organisation, Unilever, and Wellworthy Ltd (associated Engineering group).

Non-textual material comprises photographs and photographic slides, films, computer disks and technical drawings, 1962 - 1988 though there are undated items relating to Elliott Brothers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born 22 April 1917, educated at Deacon's School Peterborough; studied physics at St Catherine's College, Cambridge, began Ph.D at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge studies halted to joined wartime Air Defence Research and Development Establishment at Christchurch, Hampshire, later Malvern, Worcestershire. During this period he worked on radar systems, developing an interest in pulse-type electronic techniques. Projects included the use of delay lines to cancel out interference of stationary 'clutter' in radar signals, to distinguish a moving target, and subsequently the use of binary digital transducers in electro-mechanical servo systems.

After a period with Powell Duffryn Research Laboratories, 1946-1947, as Chief Physicist Elliott joined Elliott Brothers research Laboratories as Head of the Computing Division. In his curriculum vitae he listed the achievements of this period as shaft-encoding systems, computer-controlled gunnery (axis conversion, data reduction, prediction), analogue and digital computing systems, storage in magnetostriction delay lines in the '401' computer. The '401' prototype was built with the support of the National Research Development Corporation. Completed in April 1953 it was exhibited the same month at the Physical Society Exhibition. It gave many years of good service at the Rothamstead Experimental Station and is now housed in the Science Museum London.

In 1953 Elliott moved to Ferranti Ltd. Here the listed achievements are the initiation of the Digital Systems Department (control systems on naval vessels) and the 'Pegasus' Computer. Interest in the original Pegasus computer in 1956 led to IBM making him an offer to set up and run a new research laboratory in Britain, Hursley Park, Winchester. For this period Elliott's curriculum vitae highlighted: participation in establishing research missions for European laboratories, collaboration with Nordic Laboratory n process control in paper and other industries, collaboration with parent US division on control projects and specification of 1720 control computer, introduction to IBM of microprogram control (used in 360 computers) and the provision of special computer instrumentation for Latina nuclear power station.

After his experience with three companies in the computer industry he returned to academia. He was appointed 1962 - 1965 in the Cambridge University Mathematical Laboratory as Co-ordinator of the Titan (Atlas 2) Project. This was a joint project with Ferranti Ltd and was based in part on work at Manchester on the Atlas computer. Its object was to provide a computer service for the university, and under Elliot's guidance was brought in on schedule and within a tight budget. In January 1966 he was appointed Assistant Director of Research in the Cambridge University Engineering Department and the Mathematical Laboratory. In October 1966 he moved to Imperial College London as Professor of Computing. Here he promoted CAD work and became principal investigator of two Science Research Council grants and a Ministry of Technology contract, using common equipment for CAD work. Computer courses were an important part of Elliott's work in London, for example, a course for computer design to M.Sc. Control students at Imperial and a course on CAD and graphics as part of the London University B.Sc. (Eng) and M.Sc. in Computing Science The move to Imperial did not end Elliott's Cambridge connections and for the period 1972 - 1975 he was seconded part time as Visitor to Control Group, Cambridge University Engineering Department, to assist with their research. From the early 1970s Elliott, with a number of colleagues as Graphical Software Ltd, was increasing involved in consultancy work, for example, detailed software development and overall systems design of interactive graphic facilities for CAD in real-world use.

In recognition of his distinction in computer engineering he was elected to the Fellowship of Engineering (Royal Academy of Engineering) in 1979. He was also a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineering, of the Institute of Physics and of the British Computer Society. He died on 3 May 2003.


By section as follows: Biographical, Second World War, Early Computer History, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, Lectures, Publications, Visits and Conferences, Advisory and Consultancy, Non-Textual Material

Access Information

Researchers wishing to consult the Archives should first contact the Archivist, Imperial College London, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AZ, for an appointment

Acquisition Information

Transferred from the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath to Imperial College London Archives


NCUACS catalogue no. 121/7/03

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue is available at the Archives.

Conditions Governing Use

A photocopying service is available at the discretion of the Archivist. Photocopies are supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist

Custodial History

Mrs Elizabeth Elliott, widow. July 2001