A team of engineers pictured with their scale model of North Staffordshire's first computer made at the
English Electric factory at Kidsgrove in 1955. Len Calvert is third from the left.

When computers were like something out of science fiction to the vast majority of people, North Staffordshire had the distinction of producing one of the early machines at Kidsgrove in 1955.

It was taller than a doorway and large enough to fill an average sized kitchen, according to retired engineer Len Calvert, who was then employed at the factory opened by English Electric in 1952 specifically to build the first breed of computers for use by industry, the big banks and other major concerns.

Although Len wasn't involved in the project to make North Staffordshire's historic first computer; he was a member of the team of engineers who made a scale model one eighth of the actual size, to show off the machine at an international exhibition in Geneva.

"Even our miniature version was much bigger than today's computers," he says. "In 1955 this new technology was an unknown quantity to all but scientists with specialist knowledge, but even then we knew the computer was something which would revolutionise working life and probably put some people out of work."

Len remembers that the earliest machines comprised large twin cabinets and a console. Before making the model in sheet metal, the team took pictures of all the wiring inside the full-size machine and made prints of the right size to fit into the smaller version.

"The chief salesman who took the model to the exhibition in Geneva was very pleased with it," says Len. "He gave us a fiver to have a drink on him, which in those days was enough to get us sozzled."

Kidsgrove historian Philip Leese says English Electric set up the factory on an industrial site at West Avenue off the A50 road between Talke and Lawton crossroads after the company chairman, Sir George Nelson, came to the Kidsgrove area to have a look at it.

"I've read the story that he saw a line of workers waiting at a bus stop," says Philip. "He suggested right then that these people could work for him at a new factory in their own town without having to travel elsewhere for employment. "I should add that in the early 1950s Kidsgrove was desperate to attract new industry and later the old urban council built an estate of houses at Clough Hall specially for the English Electric workforce.

"However; when the factory first opened it was all very top secret and the workers had to go to the English Electric works at Stafford to learn the necessary skills. I am no expert on these matters, but the name Lace and Deuce come to mind as acronyms which defined early computers made at Kidsgrove." ICL took over the works in the 1960s and others owners have included Marconi and Celestrica. The site is no longer used for this purpose.

Len Calvert, who is 99, joined English Electric after a two-year contract working as an engineer in Pakistan. He later became training officer at the BTH factory in Milehouse Lane, Newcastle. Len will also be remembered as the former leader of Middleport Youth Club from 1947 until 1950.

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