Email from Thinktank / Birmingham Museums about the WITCH / Harwell Dekatron Computer

When I was a toddler in the early 1970s, my father, a professor, occasionally used to take me in to Wolverhampton Polytechnic (now Wolverhampton University). Other than the collection of fossils at Himley Hall, and his secretary's labrador, my fondest memory was the WITCH computer. Whether this is a real memory, or whether I'm confusing it with a museum visit in later life, I can't say, but I have a soft spot for this beast.

The Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell has a long history better detailed at the Computer Conservation Society and Wikipedia, but in essence it was a very early computer, originally built in the early 1950s for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire and later used to teach computing at Wolverhampton & Staffordshire Technical College (later Wolves Poly, later Wolves Uni). A truly massive room-sized beast, it used flashy light things called Dekatrons for memory.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I enquired as to its current wherabouts, and received the following informative reply. This page exists to document the WITCH's recent location.

From Mon Sep 3 12:58:08 2007
Date: Mon, 3 Sep 2007 12:52:14 +0100
From: Jack Kirby <>
Subject: RE: "Witch" historic computer?

Dear Mr Oakley

Thank you for your enquiry regarding the Harwell Dekatron computer, also known as WITCH.

This computer is not on display at Thinktank, Birmingham science museum. It was displayed for a time at the former Museum of Science & Industry, but had been removed from display well before that museum closed in 1997. Thinktank is an independent charitable trust. The computer remains in the ownership of Birmingham City Council and is currently stored (partially dismantled due to size) in stable conditions at the Council's new Museum Collections Centre.

I regret that close access to this computer is currently restricted due to limited staff resources and its location behind other items in the store. It is possible that parts of it may be viewed at a distance from the aisle at an Open Day being held at the Collections Centre this Saturday 8 September [2007], 10.00am-4.30pm at 25 Dollman Street, Nechells, Birmingham B7 4RQ, but I cannot recall its exact position. For further information about the open day please call 0121 303 2834.

Your sincerely

Jack Kirby
Collections Interpretation Manager
Thinktank, Birmingham science museum

Thinktank Trust
Millennium Point Curzon Street
Birmingham B4 7XG
Registered charity no. 1061898

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew Oakley []
Sent: 03 September 2007 12:16
To: Findout
Subject: "Witch" historic computer?

Hi, I am trying to find out where I can view the WITCH, a historic computer from 1948 (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing).

I understand that in the 1970s it was donated to the Birmingham Science Museum.

Can you tell me whether it can be viewed at the Think Tank, and if not, can you provide any clues as to what has happened to it please?

Many thanks,

Andrew Oakley <>

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2009-01-08

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