Manchester Baby (Happy Father’s Day)

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

The Manchester Baby, A.K.A., the small-scale experimental machine (SSEM) was not a device of torture or something living. It was a huge innovation and giver to the future. Here’s a little more about the Manchester Baby and how it came about on the 21st June 1948, just 71 years ago.

F.C. Williams sounds like a football team. There is a Manchester connection. It doesn’t involve a centre-half called Tom Kilburn. Kilburn, from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, resident of Blackpool, was actually a regular at Old Trafford. His being a Manchester Utd fan should exclude him from my writing but Tom Kilburn CBE FRS alongside Stockport-born Sir Frederic Calland Williams, CBE FRS changed the world. Much of our modern world owes itself to this dynamic duo. Geoff Tootill, from Chadderton, where my Gran worked at Avro once, also worked in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Manchester.

Freddie Williams was a dreamer and a doer. This pioneer in radar technology carried on a wave of momentum following World War II and applied his science to research for numerous years. Look up his thesis, ‘Problems of spontaneous oscillation in electrical circuits for some light reading. Much of what was written then is widespread knowledge now. He’d be known for Manchester Baby and the Williams tube (or Williams–Kilburn tube) – a device of computer memory. Geoff C. Tootill passed away on 26th October 2017. His contributions are long and illustrious. There’s a replica of Manchester Baby in the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester), created in 1998, by the Computer Conservation Society. Tootill’s extensive notes and recollections made this possible.

Without this trio of grafters and trend-setters, the computer era could have been years, if not decades away. The Manchester Baby and Ferranti Mark 1 are iconic technological advancements. They represent the first electronic stored-program digital computers. Famous mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist Alan Turing ran a programme on Manchester Baby, having had it initially debugged by Geoff C. Tootill. Turing and the National Physical Laboratory had also been trying to make their own programmable computer. The former codebreaker and his team also spent much time in Manchester and greatly contributed to the future.


Happy Father’s Day Dad!

My father, David Acton, or Dad as I call him, because that’s what he is and always will be has given me many great memories. Caravan trips to Cleveleys, Morecambe and countless other days out have been had. There could have been more time spent together, but for divorce, Dad’s work schedule and other factors. It is water under the bridge now. Not every day growing up was wonderful, much was spent in anticipation and uncertainty. Other kids have had far worse feelings, but my dread was all I knew. On the days when Dad and Pup, or my elder brother Asa were around, then it was delightful. Having dinner at my Nana’s house, seeing my Granddad and listening to his many war and travel stories were treats.

I don’t look back with sadness on having my parents divorce so young. Around me many of my friends were in the same boat. That’s life. It is what it is. I was lucky. Some friends had lost their father at a young age, and some never even knew who their father was. Growing up in Manchester, you weren’t far away from a fatherless child. Then, I also knew kids who grew up with fathers who were abusive or neglectful. So, which is best? There are templates and ideals, but for many these were distant dreams not granted to us. Dad did his best, and always has done his best, and understanding my Dad is key. He’s laidback, relaxed and I love him unreservedly.

Dad often took me to Manchester Victoria station, where I’d meet his colleagues in a bland room above the main railway concourse. Broken biscuits, piping hot pint mugs of tea and natter would be had. Or, we’d nip over the road, down some steps to a subterranean Railway Men’s Club with the best corned beef and onion barmcakes (a bread roll) with proper mustard. When Dad wasn’t working, we’d be at the allotment on Joyce Street, Moston. Our dog Pup would be alongside us, and I’d be let out of the back gate alongside my best friend Pup. We’d run riot on Broadhurst Park, climbing trees, jumping the valleys and over the red brick stream within the park. We’d often sit together on a perch overlooking the allotment and Dad’s plot, watching as Dad bodged a greenhouse together or planted row after row of potatoes. Just by the Ronald Johnson Playing Field, Pup and I used to chase footballs. That’s now the site of F.C. United of Manchester. I like to think that Pup and I had a pooh there. I’m certain that a bush doubled-up as an open toilet for me, at least.

From time to time the Ronald Johnson Playing Field would host cycling events. It was the first place that I witnessed competitive cycling in Manchester. How lucky the city of Manchester has been since. Wandering within the confines of Broadhurst Park, Pup and I would never cross the line at Nuthurst Road, and we’d rarely walk down Lightbowne Road towards the junction at Kenyon Lane. My Gran and Ernie lived near there (off Judd Street), plus my Aunty Susan was on Joyce Street, just down Kenyon Lane. The risk of being seen was too high. We were sometimes allowed out of the allotment front gate and crossed over the road by Dad. Here in the armpit of St Mary’s Road and Joyce Street, up against the railway was a new scrub of parkland that ran behind Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot.

Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot, mostly known to us as ‘Newton Heath Loco’. It may or not have had a connection to a certain Manchester Utd., but for me it was a mysterious place full of oil and metallic smells. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company had long maintained a presence at this depot. My grandfather George Acton had worked here, as did my Dad at several points. Sometimes, Dad would drive into there to grab some tools or paints for his job. With Dad and Granddad, I was lucky enough to see under a train once or twice and wander around guided in ways health and safety executives now would grimace at.

The railway was central to my youth and time spent with Dad. Train rides to see aunts, uncles and relatives was normal. From time to time, car rides out to parks, the seaside and to see Nana and Granddad at the caravan were treats. I can recall numerous pilgrimages to see the legendary Blackpool Lights, with return trips sat on old Intercity diesel trains in the luggage and goods compartments. Lugging bags of seaweed for the allotment and garden was standard practice, in Dad’s eyes. Asa said how he, as a teenager, held a greenhouse on the roof of the possibly old Princess car, as it hurtled down the steep hill of St Mary’s Road towards Moston Brook. The residents of St. Mary’s Nursing Home may have seen a flying greenhouse as Asa lost his grip.

Dad’s cars have been antiquarian at best. Workhorses over shiny pride. I can recollect a Lada Riva in beige and faded cream. Further to that there was a black Ford Mondeo with air conditioning. The air-conditioning being electronic windows that seldom worked. Sometimes they’d roll down, but never roll up. There were occasional diesel railway vans and pick-ups. Dad had been for a long-time part of British Railways and then Network Rail as a painter and decorator. His job description was pretty much paint anything and everything – but not the trains. Work was scattered nationally but mostly confined the Lancashire and Greater Manchester area. Between work Dad, would have us nip up to what is now Julie’s Homebrew by Jessie Street and Copenhagen Street off Oldham Road. The Sharp factory would be nearby, so as sponsors of Man Utd, I was allowed to boo.

Taking Nana to Newton Heath market was always exciting as it usually meant a custard slice or Chewits. The dentist’s nightmares were through fault of Nana spoiling me. If I said that I liked a Cadbury’s Boost, Nana, a diabetic would fuel my requests. We’d even jib over the canal, Nana on the concrete walkway parallel to the Old Church Street road bridge, and me springing over the dangerous wooden canal lock gates. What is now Lidl, was once Kwik Save, and our Asa would sometimes be seen working out the back or on the graveyard evening shifts at the weekend.

Our ‘Ace’ was a hero to me, as a kid, and even though we never spent much time together, I always wanted to be him. I had brown curly unruly hair. Asa had well-kept curly black hair. Asa has and had chiseled looks. I resembled a pallet of spilt paint. My freckles and pale skin was quite far from our ‘Ace’. The good thing about ‘Ace’ was that he liked computers and would rarely touch my books. Books were everywhere and I’d pick up anything with words. Asa preferred computers, coding and all that. Picking up books from barrow stalls at Manchester Victoria was something Dad and Mum both gifted me. With my many questions, Dad would often have an answer and if he didn’t, he’d point me at a book or tell me who to ask.

Anyway Dad, have a Happy Father’s Day – see you for a drink and some City as soon as possible.

All my love, John

goater

Radical Cowherd

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.” – George Bernard Shaw

The radical city of Manchester has and continues to change eating habits for many people. Independent food co-op The Eighth Day (111 Oxford Road) has a shop and a café in central Manchester. It’s part of a growing vegetarianism within Greater Manchester. Everything from food festivals (e.g. Plant Powered Sunday), vegan fairs, beer festivals and club nights can be found within the city.

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” – Franz Kafk, German-speaking Bohemian novelist

William Cowherd died in Salford during 1816. He’d lived around that way for some time. Well done him. Salford, for those outside of Manchester, is a city that is west of Manchester. It is part of Greater Manchester, and when the news is positive, we Mancunians claim Salford as our own, but when it’s negative, Salford stands alone.

“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” –  Pythagoras, ancient Ionian Greek philosopher

For example, Salford Lads Club (est. 1903), is famous for a photo of The Smiths nearby by photographer Stephen Wright. That’s positive and claimed by Manchester. Murder for example, well that happened in Salford and has nothing to do with Manchester. Salford/Manchester’s William Cowherd advocated vegetarianism and in 1847 his philosophy founded the Vegetarianism Society (in Altrincham, just south of Manchester).

“William Cowherd, the founder and minister of Christ Church, Salford, died 24th of March, 1816, aged 53 years. At his request is inscribed, ‘All feared, none loved, and few understood.’ ” – The words of William Cowherd’s tomb at Christ Churchyard, King Street, Salford.

Popular with his followers, Cowherd gave free medical services, a lending library without cost and soup (vegetarian, obviously). Having trained at Beverley College, Yorkshire,  Cowherd moved to Manchester in the late 18th Century.. Heavily-influenced by 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, Cowherd went his own ways after jumping ship from the Church of England to the Swedenborgian church before he went solo.

“Eaters of flesh could you decry; Our food and sacred laws; Did you behold the lambkin die; And feel yourself the cause?” – Hymn against flesh eating

Reverend William Cowherd established the Bible Christian Church in 1809. Located on King Street, Salford, his church broke away from the Swedenborgian New Church. He and his congregation [known as Cowherdites] vowed not to eat meat or other intoxicants. Born in 1763, William Cowherd, headed from his native Carnforth (Lonsdale South of the Sands). A keen writer, Reverend William Cowherd’s work could be found from the New Jerusalem Journal to the catchily named Liturgy of the Lord’s New Church. Various works of his were printed locally at the Manchester Printing Society. Considering Cowherd, which is a strange name for a man who hated eating meat, was only around for 53 years, his church managed to reach America [Philadelphia Bible Christian Church] and push the cause of vegetarianism and form of temperance to a wider audience. Other temples opened around Manchester for the Bible Christian Church, with one on Every Street just down from what is now known as the Etihad Stadium.

“It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” – Albert Einstein

So, Cowherd convinced a group of congregates not to eat offal (stomach and intestine) etc. The poor were rarely able to invest in higher cuts of meat. These Cowherdites, his flock, went on and before you knew it meat was murder and the Vegetarian Society was born. At this time, vegetarianism was met with disdain. Nobody knew how the health effect would be. Few had studied it. Few had gone that way. Deaths within the Cowherdites were blamed on a lack of meat and two veg in their diets. Intellectuals throughout urbanisation and cities began to debate the ethics of killing and eating animals. Vegetarian restaurants in Victorian Manchester flourished.

“The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me.” – George Bernard Shaw