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70th Anniversary of the "Baby" – Celebrations and Lectures

21 June 2018 was the 70th anniversary of the creation of the "Baby" computer. The Lit & Phil marked the occasion with an evening of lectures by Dame Mary Archer DBE and Dr James Sumner delivered to a packed-out audience at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The event was the Lit & Phil's 2018 Manchester Lecture, a prestigious annual lecture, the subject matter of which reflects the achievements, concerns and opportunities of modern Manchester and its immediate region. While not a modern achievement for Manchester, the Baby was certainly an achievement that not only impacted modern Manchester but the modern world. Among the Manchester Lecture's special guests was 90-year-old Professor David “Dai” Edwards – then a young scientist who was part of the pioneering team behind the world’s first stored-program computer. Professor Edwards worked on Baby as it was expanded into the Manchester Mark 1, which led the way to the world’s first commercially available general-purpose computer.


Dr Diana Leitch (President) welcoming everyone to the Manchester Lecture 2018


The large audience was welcomed by the President, Dr Diana Leitch MBE, who awarded Honorary Membership of the Lit and Phil to Dame Mary Archer and Professor Dai Edwards and presented Dr James Sumner with a copy of John Dalton's papers before Dame Mary and James started their respective lectures.



Dame Mary Archer commenced the lectures with a look at the Museum Group's computer collection before moving on to Dr James Sumner's talk about the history of computing in Manchester, including a mention of the women who played an important role in Manchester's early computing developments. One such woman was the mother of Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web), Mary Lee Woods, an English mathematician and computer programmer who worked in a team that developed programs in the School of Computer Science, University of Manchester Mark 1, Ferranti Mark 1 and Mark 1 Star computers. 





Pictures from the evening

Images marked with a copyright watermark have been kindly provided to us by Tim Banks and the BABY Computer Volunteers. All other photos without a watermark have been taken by Society Member Dr David Leitch.

Council and Arts Section member Joanna Lavelle and new member, John Glenn, on the reception desk

The BABY Computer volunteers and Dai Edwards in front of the replica machine

Professor Dai Edwards in front of the Baby replica at MSI

Group left to right, in front of the Baby replica –Sally McDonald (Director of MSI), Professor Dai Edwards, George Baker (Lit and Phil Member and Computer Volunteer), Dr Diana Leitch (President Manchester Lit and Phil), Dame Mary Archer, DBE (Chair of Board of Trustees of Science Museum Group) 

One of the BABY Computer volunteers speaks to Stuart Flinders from BBC North West Tonight

"Happy 70th Birthday Baby!"

Dr Diana Leitch (President) presenting Dame Mary Archer DBE with a certificate of Honorary Membership of the Lit and Phil

Dr Diana Leitch (President) presenting Professor Dai Edwards with a certificate of Honorary Membership of the Lit and Phil

Dame Mary Archer giving her talk entitled 'From Babbage to the "Baby": the Science Museum Group's Computer Collection'

Dame Mary Archer giving her talk entitled 'From Babbage to the "Baby": the Science Museum Group's Computer Collection'

Khalil Rafiq, a biographer of Professor Tom Kilburn,  reads greetings from the Kilburn family

Dr James Sumner giving his talk entitled  'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester'

Dr James Sumner giving his talk entitled  'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester'

The packed-out audience in the Revolution MCR space at MSI

Diana Leitch (President) presents Dr James Sumner with a copy of John Dalton's papers


More photos are available over on the MSI blog here.


Top photo of Dai Edwards from the Museum of Science and Industry
The past year contained an eclectic series of lectures beginning in October with Dr David Bellingham who spoke on Legal and Ethical Title: selling off art from English country house collections. He used Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and Syon House in Middlesex as case studies to excellent effect. This was followed in November by a lecture on Aviation and the Environment, a subject about which members knew very little, but which was brought to life with excellent illustrations by an enthusiastic lecturer, Professor John Fielding.
Syon House Aphrodite at Sotheby's Sale Preview
In December Dr Michael Cannon spoke on overcoming the problems of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics under the title Antibiotics: the Calm before the Storm. He described the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that could potentially have catastrophic consequences. January saw a visit by Professor Julian Pine on Tuning In and Talking: how parents can influence their children's language development. The lecture began by discussing research which shows that parents who talk about what is in their children's current focus of attention tend to have children who go on to develop large vocabularies. It then described an intervention study which showed how ‘tuning in and talking’ can be used to boost language learning in children from low socio-economic status.
In March, Georgina Ferry spoke under the title Diamonds to DNA: the women who revealed the hidden structures of nature where she looked at the circumstances of three women, Kathleen Lonsdale, Dorothy Hodgkin (a member of the Manchester Lit & Phil) and Rosalind Franklin. She discussed how they were able to succeed in science at a time when few women had professional careers of any kind.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin with her children Toby, Elizabeth and Luke in 1946 on the day her Fellowship of the Royal Society was announced. Copyright: Newsquest Oxfordshire
The final lecture of the year was given in April by Professor Stephen Graham who explored the idea that today’s towns and cities can no longer be read as a two-dimensional map but must be understood as a series of vertical strata. In Vertical Cities: from basement to rooftop he explained how to rethink the city at every level – how the geography of inequality, politics and identity is determined in terms of above and below.


The new law on Data Protection (General Data Protection Policy – GDPR) comes into effect on 25 May 2018, which replaces the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and is designed “to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens’ data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy”. 


As a member of the Lit & Phil, we need to send you information about upcoming events and important details about your subscription and payments. This means that by doing so, we are fulfilling our obligation to you as a member of the Society and do not require positive consent to contact you within the scope of your membership (see contractual reasons for data processing in our full policy document). Communication will generally be by email, post, or phone, and will always be related to Lit & Phil information. Your details will never be passed to a third party.


Even though we do not need to you opt-in at present due the nature of our data processing, the introduction of GDPR provides us with the opportunity to make you aware of our privacy policy and to give you the chance to update your details so that we can make sure any data we hold is accurate. You can access our Data Privacy Notice and the more detailed Data Protection & Retention Policy the Lit & Phil website under ‘Resources’. You will also be able to review the personal data we hold for you and update it, if necessary, on your website account user area where you will also find a record of your interactions with the society (bookings, transactions and emails). We will be in touch with members when the full updating features go live.

We are happy to announce that the Manchester Lecture will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday 21 June 2018 at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). This year it is in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the world's first stored-program computer on 21 June 1948 at the University of Manchester. The computer is known as 'The Baby' and a replica of it is located at MSI.

The Lecture, to be delivered by Dr James Sumner from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, is entitled 'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester'. There will be an introduction by Dame Mary Archer DBE, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group which includes MSI. Additionally, The Museum of Science and Industry Computing Volunteers will be running the replica machine in the afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. and also between 6 and 7 p.m. Additionally, Professor Jim Miles from the University of Manchester and some of his students will be demonstrating modern day computing in the afternoon.

Members will have the option to book for supper which will be served between 6 and 7 p.m. at MSI. We are currently awaiting the final details and as soon as everything is completed, the booking will go live so be sure to check your emails and the website for updates.



Arts Section Theatre Group

20th December, 2017

The Arts Section are proposing a new theatre-going group for Lit & Phil members who would like to attend performances together with a pre-performance talk and discussion accompanied by refreshments at the Lit & Phil meeting space. At this stage, there are plans for a pilot event so we are asking members to let us know by email or phone whether they would be interested in attending the pilot event before we procure group tickets.

The first event will take place around a performance of The Cherry Orchard at the Royal Exchange Theatre on 26 April 2018, with the pre-performance meet-up starting at 12.45 p.m. and the performance at 2.30 p.m.

The response has been great so far and we will be assessing the attendance numbers for the first Theatre Group outing in early January so we can reserve the right amount of tickets and will contact interested parties shortly thereafter to confirm payment information.

Even if you cannot attend the first performance but would like to attend other group outings, please do register your interest with the office.

For more information about the idea behind the group and how it will work, please see a letter from the Chair of the Arts Section, Patricia McWilliam-Fowler, that members should have received via email. If you are interested in attending the first event, please let the office know as soon as possible.

Office Closure over Christmas

12th December, 2017


The Lit & Phil office will be closed over the Christmas and New Year period, starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday 21 December 2017 and reopening at 9 a.m. on Thursday 4 January 2018.

Members can still book for lectures on the website over the festive period, but please be aware that any email or phone queries will only be answered upon reopening.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all members of the Lit & Phil an enjoyable Christmas and a peaceful New Year. We look forward to seeing you when lectures start again at the end of January 2018.


We would like to invite members new and old to our Christmas drop-ins at the society’s offices on Deansgate. These will be a chance for members to socialise with each other, meet members of Council and the Lit & Phil staff, as well as see our newly refurbished meeting space. There will be wine, soft drinks and mince pies plus savoury nibbles available.

There will be two drop-in opportunities during the daytime so that it is possible to combine our festive meet-up with any shopping or visits to the Christmas markets at a time when the commute into Manchester may be easier than for our evening events. The two dates and times are:

Monday 11 December between 14.00 and 16.00
Thursday 14 December between 11.00 and 13.00



If you have not yet paid a visit to our offices, the address is:

5th Floor, Church House
90 Deansgate
M3 2GP

The entrance to the building is located between the Bella Italia restaurant, on the corner of St Mary's Street, and a Toni & Guy hairdressers. There is an elevator to the 5th Floor and the buzzer for the Lit & Phil is situated to the right as you exit the lift.

We hope you will be able to join us for a drink, a mince pie and a chat. Please let the office know which day you intend to come so that we can prepare accordingly, just click here to send an email.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


Lit & Phil Member Survey

15th November, 2017

The Lit & Phil Council would like hear from members regarding the annual programme and event arrangements. We want to be sure that we are offering a broad and flexible range of meetings, so that we can encourage members to attend as many events as possible and also attract new members. We have already had over 40 replies to the survey so far, so we would like to thank those who have already completed it. If you haven't then you may be interested in the sorts of ideas other members have been putting forward such as:

  • Different venues
  • Earlier (and later) timings

  • Longer (and shorter) lectures

  • More time for questions

  • Food – buffet; two-course meal, as currently; pre-lecture food

  • More extramural visits

  • Easier booking and checking-in

The list could go on! And we would like it to with your help. The society currently has over 400 members and we would really like to hear from as many as possible on how you would like our Society to develop so please do complete the survey if you have not done so already.

You can now fill in the questions online at this link [please note that you must logged in to the website as the page is only available to members of the society], or download and fill in the Word document sent to you via email, or complete a paper copy with your tea and coffee before forthcoming lectures. The deadline for the second round is Monday 11 December 2017.

We want you take this opportunity to influence any changes we will make after the survey results are analysed. We will, of course, be producing a report to all members on what the survey reveals and the actions we will take as a result.

We look forward to hearing from you!


The new 2017/18 season is fast approaching, but before we reveal the new Programme we are taking a look back on the past year's events to see what gave us food for thought in 2016 and 2017.

2016/17 Social Philosophy Lectures

The first lecture arranged by the Social Philosophy committee was given in September by Professor Will Kaufman who has the chair in American Literature and Culture at the University of Central Lancashire and is recognised as the world's leading authority on Woody Guthrie. He spoke with great clarity under the title The Dirty Thirties: Woody Guthrie, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression illustrating one of the most turbulent times in American history by singing the songs of Woody Guthrie while accompanying himself on guitar. 


In November Richard Morris, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Huddersfield and biographer of both Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire, addressed members on Manchester, Air Power and the Great War. He provided a most interesting account of the distinctive part Manchester played in the development of the Royal Air Force, compared the city with other early centres of aeronautical engineering and discussed the key factors that shaped the city's contribution to the emergence of air power.

February brought Mrs Angela Shackleton Bebb, great-niece of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who spoke about Shackleton, Endurance and the Remarkable Voyage of the James Caird. She told her audience of her ancestor's family life, the individual characters of some members of the expedition and of the remarkable seamanship which enabled Shackleton to navigate the ship's boat, the James Caird, across hundreds of miles of ocean to save his men. Mrs Bebb brought with her a number of original artefacts, pictures and notebooks, and told her story with wit and charm.  

A change of direction in April brought Michael Powell, the Librarian of Chetham's Library, who talked under the title In the Labyrinth: John Dee in Manchester. This was very well received with just the right balance of concentration on John Dee's years in Manchester while not omitting more general information on his earlier life in the court of Queen Elizabeth.

Early May saw Professor Julian Thomas and Halls of the Dead: Discoveries from an Archaeological Dig which is on-going at Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire. Professor Thomas spoke eloquently and in detail about this University of Manchester dig. He explained its place within Neolithic Europe as well as the significance of 'halls of the living' being transformed into 'halls of the dead'. 

Late May saw a last-minute change of lecturer when Dr Elizabeth Yardley was unable to make her planned visit but we were delighted to welcome instead her colleague Emma Kelly who talked about A Tale of Two Districts': Criminological Ethnography Then and Now.  Looking at the history of criminology as an academic enterprise the talk showed how criminological research is undertaken moving from Chicago to England and then Dublin. She described her own doctoral work in an immersed sociological study where she worked with youth gangs in the Republic of Ireland.


The new 2017/18 season is fast approaching, but before we reveal the new Programme we are taking a look back on the past year's events to see what gave us food for thought in 2016 and 2017.

2016/17 Science & Technology Lectures

The lecture series started early (8th September) to take advantage of the agronomist Jonathan Gressel’s presence in the UK for an editorial board meeting. Professor Gressel, of the Weizmann Institute in Israel, spoke to Hammering Two New Nails in Malthus’ Coffin with Genetic Engineering. He explained how modern crops were the result of millennia of selective breeding, and now lacked the genes that could be manipulated for desirable qualities: consequently, major strain improvement could come only from the transfer of genes from other organisms (“horizontal transfer”). He gave a number of examples where strains were improved for nutrition and pest resistance. He pointed out that the molecular changes involved in conventional plant breeding (e.g. with irradiation of seeds) were bigger than the targeted changes to produce transgenics, and that horizontal transfer took place in Nature anyway.

Professor Stephen Scott (18th October), the discoverer (as a PhD student) of periodic reactions in the gas phase comparable to the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction in solution, spoke about 35 Years of Chaos – Have we learned anything important? He concentrated on his own gas-phase work and reminded us how powerful paper-and-pencil methods had become just before high-powered desktop computing became generally available.

Professor Joanna Haigh, CBE FRS (Imperial College), talked on Climate Change on 1st December. She gave a masterly treatment of the basic physics involved in the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide and other gases, and an objective account of anthropogenic changes. There was a clear comparison of the measured emission spectrum of the earth with the theoretical curve for a black body at 21oC. The measured spectrum had a large “bite” around 670 cm-1 corresponding to the bending vibration of CO2, and smaller bites corresponding to methane. Emission did not fall to zero at 670 cm-1, refuting climate sceptic arguments that the earth’s atmosphere is already black at this wavelength, and will not respond to additional CO2. Despite the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, Professor Haigh held her audience until the end of her lecture, after which there was a protracted, interested and cordial question session.

Dr. Eamonn Kerins (Jodrell Bank) displayed some of the most beautiful slides of the year. In his talk on 13th February about An Astrophysicists Guide to Curtain Twitching – the hunt for exoplanets and our interstellar neighbours he described the four methods used, all of which depended on very precise measurements of a star’s luminosity. The most powerful method (gravitational lensing, involving the simultaneous observation of 108 pairs of stars, required major advances in IT before it became practical.  The work could only be carried out at the Southern Observatory in the Andes, where there was no light pollution and the air was very dry. It turns out that many exoplanets can be detected, some orbiting two stars rather than one:  there are even planets not attached to a particular star. The idea that the Earth is a uniquely fitted for the evolution of Life is wrong.  Enrico Fermi’s question about extra-terrestrial conscious life – “Where are they?” now requires an answer, since Fermi estimated that it would take only a few million years for an advanced civilisation to traverse the Milky Way.  After the talk, Dr Kerins had to be rescued from a crowd of enthusiastic members and guests who seemed able to ask unlimited numbers of friendly questions.

Mr. Robert Harris, the acoustic designer of Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, talked on 30th March on The Art and Science of Concert Hall and Opera House Design. Surprisingly, the dominant phenomenon in the experience of sound in a concert setting is reflection, rather than diffraction (middle C has a wavelength of ~1.3 m).  Consequently it is possible to build a model of a concert hall with reflective surfaces and use light to see how sound gets to the listener; the listener’s orientation is also, of course, important.  It is also now possible for the dimensions and surface reflectivity of a hall to be fed into modelling program: sound modified by this program, when played back in an acoustically-dead, cork-lined room reproduced the sound heard in the modelled hall. The acoustics of the Leipzig Gewandthaus, destroyed in WWII, were confirmed to be nearly perfect for orchestral music in this way. The various uses to which a hall was put imposed conflicting requirements: to get clarity and intelligibility of speech you needed a dead acoustic, but to get the “immersion in sound” effect from an orchestra reverberance is needed. These conflicting requirements were summarised in the aphorism “an art is a science with more than seven variables”, and removable acoustic panels were one solution to complex demands. The speaker then went on to describe how the “shoebox” shape was best for opera,  the “vineyard” shape for orchestral music, but the vogue for seating audiences behind the orchestra gave them a poor acoustic experience. 

Professor Harry Brumer (University of British Columbia) was the speaker on 27th April, with a profusely illustrated talk on Getting by with a Little Help from my Friends: the key role of symbiotic human gut microbes in health. The human genome contains relatively few genes encoding carbohydrate-degrading enzymes: those that we do possess are largely concerned with degrading starch. Many of the complex structural polysaccharides in fruits and vegetables do in fact contribute to nutrition, thanks to symbiotic microbes in the lower gut. These microbes are anaerobes, and are consequently difficult to culture, which is why they have only recently been recognised.  The general importance of a healthy microbial ecosystem in the gut has long been recognised, but exaggerated claims, even for increased serotonin (hence the title), have not until now been supported by mechanisms. The chemical structures of plant polysaccharides can be very diverse and complex, and it is thought that gut bacteria are very highly specialised. The speaker described his work, as part of a consortium, on a single locus in Bacteroides ovatus. The locus, XyGUL, was essential for hydrolysing a particular xyloglucan found in Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, etc), and coded for eight glycohydrolases, including a membrane-bound enzyme facing extracellularly, which made the initial cut in the macromolecule, and a couple of transport/binding proteins. The individual sugars are disproportionated to short-chain fatty acids by the microbes, and then absorbed by the host. Xyloglucan can contribute 10% of calories.

DNA and the Settlement of Europe was the title of the talk given by Professor Martin Richards (University of Huddersfield) on May 16. Archaeogenetics is the application of molecular genetics to the study of the human past, and has had three phases. The first used classical markers such as blood groups, and gave the first indications of a poor correlation between language and genetic origin, when the Icelanders were shown to have blood group frequencies typical of the NW British Isles, rather than Norway. The second used modern DNA techniques with non-recombining markers in living populations, the Y chromosome in the male line and mitochondrial DNA in the female. The mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of the cell, and whereas an egg will contain hundreds, a spermatozoon contains only a handful: any that do get incorporated into the fertilised egg are recognised and destroyed. For the last decade the automation of DNA sequencing, which had made it possible to re sequence human genomes in a few days, and the development of techniques for extracting ancient DNA, have made it possible to sequence archaeological specimens. mtDNA sequences had shown that all non-African humans derived  from a single African lineage L3, 70,000 years ago (the “mitochondrial Eve” from who all humans derived was 200,000 years ago). L3 first moved out of Africa to the Gulf coast and Mesopotamia, where it remained for 15,000 years before sending descendants into South Asia, Near East and Europe, and back into Egypt. The L3 line interbred with Neanderthals before the split between South/East and West Eurasians. Genome-wide analysis suggests there were indigenous Europeans before the Neolithic migrations, and that the Saami (Lapps) and Basques are significantly derived from them.  When Y chromosomes are examined, a group appears north of the Black Sea which migrates north and west, and then south and east, and has been correlated with male-dominated Indo-Europeans.