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Archives of the Mathematical Laboratory and its successor, the Computer Laboratory, 1934 - 2006

 Fonds — Container: COMP
Reference Code: GBR/0265/UA/COMP

Scope and Contents

The archives comprise limited quantities of administrative material, including of the Computing Service. Much more significant are the surviving records of EDSAC and EDSAC 2 [Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator], among the earliest electronic computers, developed in the late 1940s and 1950s.


  • 1934 - 2006


Conditions Governing Access

The University Archives are generally freely available to the holder of a reader's ticket for the Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR. Restrictions on access are imposed on certain categories of sensitive record: financial, governmental and personal, by order of the originating body or under data protection legislation. Access information, including opening hours and how to obtain a reader's ticket, appears as part of the Library's web site (

Conditions Governing Use

Requests to publish text should be addressed to the Keeper of University Archives, photographs to the Head of Digital Content Unit; both at Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR.

Biographical / Historical

The Mathematical Laboratory was established in 1937, under the aegis of the Mathematics Faculty, for work on mechanical computation in all branches of science. J.E. Lennard-Jones, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, was appointed its part-time director and Maurice Wilkes its first full-time member of staff. The earliest equipment acquired was a differential analyser. The laboratory and its equipment was made available to the Ministry of Supply during World War Two. In 1947, Maurice Wilkes was appointed director. Thereafter, the laboratory became involved in electronic, stored program, digital computing. EDSAC [Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator] came into use as a fully functional stored program computer in May 1949. The Laboratory was also active in teaching. The first formal course leading to a qualification began in 1953. The Computer Science Tripos was first examined in 1972. In the first decades of its existence, the study of computing as an academic subject and the provision of computing facilities to the University as a whole were intimately bound together. In 1970, the Computing Service was divided from teaching and research within the Laboratory. In 2001, it formally separated on the relocation of the Laboratory to West Cambridge (see below). The laboratory was renamed the Computer Laboratory in 1970, a department independent of any faculty, responsible to the Computer Syndicate. Supervision passed to the Computer Science Syndicate in 1991. From January 2006, the Laboratory was reconstituted as the sole department within the newly established Faculty of Computer Science and Technology, within the School of Technology and the Computer Science Syndicate was replaced by a Faculty Board. The Laboratory was housed on the New Museums Site until 2001 when it moved into the William Gates Building in West Cambridge. For background information, see M.V. Wilkes, Memoirs of a Computer Pioneer (MIT Press, 1985); IEEE Annals of the history of computing. Special issue on the University of Cambridge, Vol.14(4), 1992; 'EDSAC 99', a programme and digest of papers presented at a conference in Cambridge 15-16 April 1999 (catalogued as UA COMP 7/2) and the Computer Laboratory website.


6 linear metre(s) : paper, photograph, brass, video tape

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of sections A-D and F (apart from A.20-2 and C.7-10) was prepared in 1983. In May 2009, during the cataloguing of the second tranche, items in section F were recatalogued and material in COMP ADDS added to form a single unified listing.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers have been transferred in several tranches: papers in sections COMP A-D and F were transferred from the Computer Laboratory by Dr A.R. Herbert in December 1982. Papers in sections COMP 1/1-4, 2-3, 4/1-2, 5/1-3, 6-7, A.20-2 and C.7 were transferred by Nicholas Cutler, Librarian, Computer Laboratory, on 12 November 2008. Papers in section COMP 1/5-7, 4/3-12, 5/4, 7/2 (addnl) and C.8-10 were transferred by Nicholas Cutler, Librarian, Computer Laboratory, on 17 Dec. 2012. Papers in COMP A.22 were transferred by Prof. Martin Campbell-Kelly, Department of Computer-Science, University of Warwick, on 11 June 2014. They are permanent transfers to the University Archives.


The online catalogue was completed in 2004 and significantly expanded in May 2009, May 2013 and August 2014.


Mathematical Laboratory

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom