Phil Gardner – 18th April 2004


1900 computers within Sussex


ICL 1900 computers were used fairly extensively within Local Government, Central Government and some businesses within Sussex.


Dental Estimates Board

Based in
Eastbourne, the DEB used 1900 computers to process the payment of Dentists Fees, using information supplied on Patient Estimate Forms. The suite of programs to do this were designed and written by an in-house team of System Analysts and Programmers. The programs were written in 1900 Plan and COBOL.


The first computer, a 1903A was installed on 13th October 1970, and this was soon upgraded to a 1904A in April 1971. Both machines were fitted with the latest Exchangeable Disk Drives, EDS 30s. Subsequent upgrades followed including a 1904S.


The data input medium was paper tape, and a team of 240 data preparation staff was employed to punch the Estimate Form information. Linotype-Paul Limited supplied the data preparation equipment, this being equal numbers of verifiers and perforators.


It is interesting to note that when the programs were written, the programmers used the date format of DD/MM/YY in order to save two characters capacity on every date stored. It was anticipated that the system would be replaced well before 31st December 1999, nearly 30 years hence. In fact the system was still operational in the 1990s and in 1996 much effort had to be devoted to upgrading the dates to cope with Year 2000.

Greenwich Observatory

This was based at
Herstmonceux Castle and I remember that they had a very large and powerful 1900, 1906S comes to mind. Their resident ICL engineer was Brian Jones; he always had Volvo cars! He also covered the DEB.


Department of the Environment (now the Property Services Agency)


This was a government department based in Ashdown House in Hastings. I know nothing about their operation or hardware but I do know they had a 1900 computer in the 1970s as their engineers also supported the DEB and Eastbourne Council.




This company is a major car retailer with outlets across the Southeast. Originally a Jaguar and British Leyland supplier they now manage a wide range of franchises. Their head office is based in Eastbourne and they were a 1900 User in the 1960s and 70s before moving on to 2904.
Primary usage was Payroll, Stores and Sales Management.

Local Government


A number of councils within Sussex were all users of ICL 1900 computers.


They included:


Ø      Eastbourne Borough Council

Ø      East Sussex County Council

Ø      Hastings Borough Council

Ø      Hove Borough Council

Ø      Wealden District Council

Ø      Worthing Borough Council


They all used the computers for the standard range of Local Government applications including:


Ø      Payroll

Ø      Creditors

Ø      Council Tax or Rates as it was known in the 1960s and 70s

Ø      Housing Rents

Ø      Mortgages (Councils used to be able to lend money to local residents for house purchases)

Ø      Housing Benefits

Ø      Miscellaneous Income

Ø      Register of Electors

Ø      Financial Accounting

Ø      Cash Receipting


If they had their own Direct Labour Force they might also use it for:


Ø      Job Costing

Ø      Stores

Ø      Vehicle Maintenance


There were a number of very active User Groups within ICL during the 1960s and 70s, both in East Sussex, as well as London and the Southeast.


Systems development was always a regular discussion point at these meetings and this often led to an interchange of systems between different authorities.


Eastbourne for example obtained their Register of Electors system from Worthing, and their Housing Rents system from Luton. Some amendment was always required to meet local needs, but the nucleus of the system remained unchanged saving a lot of development time and cost.



Eastbourne Borough Council


Eastbourne Borough Council was involved with automation of data processing from 36-column punched card equipment in 1950 through to I.C.T. 40 column card equipment in the mid-1960s.


The first 1900 computer was an ICL 1901 commissioned in early 1969. This had Magnetic Tape units for data storage and paper tape as the data input medium. The first applications were:

Ø      Council Rates

Ø      Creditors

Ø      Payroll in the form of ICL’s Paymaster package.

This machine was upgraded in various forms over the following years and new applications added including:

Ø      Housing Rents

Ø      Rent Allowances

Ø      Miscellaneous Income and Debtors Payments

Ø      House Purchase Advances (Mortgages)

Ø      Consolidated Loans Fund (Managing money borrowed by the Council)

Ø      Bonds (Council used to offer investment opportunities to investors around the country)

By September 1973 the configuration was as follows:


1 x 1902A processor with 32K store

3 x 2813 EDS 30 disk drives

4 x 1971/2 magnetic tape drives

1 x 1915/02 paper tape reader

1 x 1933/02 1350 lines per minute printer

1 x 2402/02 600 lines per minute printer


In 1975 the council upgraded to a 1901T when they added the first distributed processing equipment using ICL 7502s. The aim was to give users enquiry only access to index-sequential master files on the EDS 60s.

The 1901T configuration was:

3 x 2815 EDS 60 disk drives

4 x 1971/2 magnetic tape drives

1 x 1915/02 paper tape reader

1 x 1933/02 1350 lines per minute printer

1 x 2402/02 600 lines per minute printer


The distributed hardware comprised:


1 x 7502 terminal processor

4 x 7561 Visual Display Units

2 x 7572 Hard copy printers

2 x 7086 Termiprinters





The enquiry only access covered the following systems:


Ø      Historical payments to creditors

Ø      Creditors names and addresses

Ø      Salaries personal records

Ø      Wages personal records

Ø      Rate account details

Ø      Rate payment details

Ø      Debtors account details

Ø      House purchase advance records


By 1977 the paper tape method of data capture was becoming outdated and the equipment was becoming susceptible to failure, so a decision was taken to switch to Key-to-Disc.


The solution chosen was ICL’s Direct Data Entry system (DDE), but as this was an integral part of the 2904 range of computers, 1978 saw the end of the 1900 era at Eastbourne.


By the end of it’s life the 1901T was running the following workload:


Ø      Bank Reconciliation

Ø      Bonds

Ø      Bonus Calculations

Ø      Cash Receipting

Ø      Catering and Direct Payments
Eastbourne being a seaside resort had an extensive range of catering outlets and the whole process was managed through an in-house written system that covered suppliers, stores and sales.

Ø      Consolidated Loans Fund

Ø      Creditors

Ø      Direct Debiting

Ø      Borough Engineers’ Costing

Ø      Borough Engineers’ Stores

Ø      House Purchase Advances

Ø      Housing Rents

Ø      Financial Accounting

Ø      Payroll

Ø      Payroll Oncost

Ø      Rate Rebates

Ø      Register of Electors

Ø      Rent Allowances

Ø      Stationery Stores

Ø      Transport Costing

Ø      Transport Stores

Ø      Transport Traffic
The above three systems were run for Eastbourne Corporation Transport, the oldest municipal bus undertaking in Great Britain. Costing and Stores were straightforward management of spares and repairs for bus maintenance. The third system was the processing of daily returns of ticket sales based on the ticket machines carried by conductors. Each morning the sheets, completed by the conductors, would be delivered to the Computing Section for data preparation and processing, and the resulting output had to be available for collection by midday. This could result in some frantic activity within Data Control to meet this tight deadline.

Ø      Tide Tables
Again being a seaside resort
Eastbourne liked to have it’s own set of tide tables. The calculations to do this were based on tables produced by the Admiralty for Shoreham. The Data Processing Manager had written a FORTRAN program to do the calculations. The values for all tides on the tables were punched and entered into the computer, and then a variation was applied to allow for the tidal difference between Eastbourne and Shoreham. These Tide Tables were much in demand amongst the local angling community.



ICL Engineers


It is worth recalling some of the ICL engineers who used to keep the 1900 computers and their peripheral equipment operational


Names that come to mind include:


Bob Stidston

Len Pain

Brian Jones

Cyril Hutson

John Holmes

Brian Budden

Alan Randall

Mike Fermor