Catalogue description Dr Peter Niblett

This record is held by Science and Industry Museum

Details of 2001.286
Reference: 2001.286
Title: Dr Peter Niblett

Papers relating to the Computer Division at Ferranti International PLC


The collection is almost entirely technical in nature and deals with the development of various programming systems used by Dr Niblett during the course of his working life at Ferranti.

Date: 1960-1985
Held by: Science and Industry Museum, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Physical description: 6 boxes/2 lm
  • Ferranti Ltd, electrical engineers
  • Niblett, Peter, fl 1956-1990, software engineer, doctor
Administrative / biographical background:

Biographical History


Dr Niblett started in computing in 1956 when undertaking a PhD in Theoretical Physics at University College London. There he used a machine designed by A D Booth of Birkbeck College. Having completed his PhD he joined Ferranti on 16 June 1958 as a member of the Computer Research Group based first at Portland Place but then transferred to Bracknell.


At Bracknell he worked on the ASAC-M, POSEIDON and F1600 Series computer development and participated in many studies concerning the potential use of these machines in military, real-time systems. For some of this work he made frequent visits to use the Ferranti PEGASUS computer at the Admiralty Research Laboratory in Teddington. He was intimately involved with the logic designer in the definition of the instruction sets for POSEIDON and F1600 and in the generation of the support software (such as bootstrap from paper tape, program input routines etc) and hardware test programs. It was during this time that Ferranti gave up its commercial interests to ICL, and Bracknell became a specialist, real-time system part of Ferranti - not then related to the Wythenshawe Argus development and application stream.


He was then put in charge of all program development for the Bracknell Division at the start of a period of rapid growth. After a relatively short time he was managing about 600 people both at Bracknell but also at various outstations including Royal Navy Establishments at Portsmouth and Weymouth. His staff were frequently involved in the setting-to-work of systems in various shipyards during construction and at sea on formal trials. He became particularly concerned with the management of software development, from estimating to controlling the recruitment, training and allocation of staff to projects. A further related aspect was the definition of standards and procedures to be used for operational program development to meet ever more stingent demands from the Ministry of Defence.


On the technical side he initiated the development of the FIXPAC [Fixed Point Autocode, in contrast to the Ferranti PEGASUS Autocode which was based mainly on the use of floating-point variables). They used the same symbols (such as "v" and "n") as Autocode as they were available on the 5-hole paper tape used at that time to refer to the F1600 machine registers. Any assembler has to take account of the constraints of memory then available - most commonly 4096 24-bit words. Dr Niblett was involved in the specification of real-time supervisors, the range of library routines and their comprehensive testing for accuracy. The growth of the internal computing facilities and their operation to meet the increasing need for program development time was a significant responsibility.


In 1974, it became necessary for the Division to seek premises in a new part of the country to tap a new pool of potential staff as it was proving to recruit and retain enough suitable people in the Bracknell area. He thus moved to Cwmbran, South Wales to set up a programming operation there and this grew quite rapidly and undertook the provision of software development tools and hardware test programs for all of the Bracknell Division.


In the early 1980s a Divisional reorganisation took place and a significant hardware development capability was brought to Cwmbran to support the whole of the Division. Eventually Dr Niblett ceased his line management role and became a Software Consultant, reporting directly to the Divisional Manager. In this capacity he became more concerned with computer facilities for management as well as for technical staff as well as with many new technical developments such as Expert Systems and Security issues. He also became involved with moves to maximise the benefits of closer cooperation between the Bracknell and Wythenshawe technical staff.


The Ferranti Company was in financial difficulties in the early 1990s. Dr Niblett's post was made redundant in 1990.

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