Computers in the City of London


We’ve all heard of ‘Silicon Valley’ in the US but until recently not many had heard of ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in Shoreditch. Yes this interchange system officially known as Old Street Roundabout is home to a cluster of web based businesses. The surrounding area in Shoreditch between Old Street and The Olympic park in Stratford is known as ‘Tech City.’ It is the third-largest technology startup cluster in the world after San Francisco and New York City.The close proximity to The City of London and the low rents attracted the young creative IT crowd and entrepreneurs resulting in a number of successful start ups. and amongst them. In 2010, The government took an active interest in developing the technological business growth of the area. Today, it’s estimated there are some 5,000 tech companies situated there. It’s not the first time London has been a pioneer in computing.

Ever since “The father of computers” Charles Babbage was born in Walworth in 1791 London has had a long history with computers. Computer pioneer Babbage devised The Analytical Engine which was the first fully automating calculating machine in 1834. The machine was designed to evaluate any mathematical formula. You can see a construction of his design in The Science Museum to truly recognise what a great forward thinker he was.

It wasn’t until after the Second World War in 1951 J.Lyons known for its tea and Lyons Corner Houses developed the first business computer in the world. It was called Lyons Electronic Office or LEO for short. The first calculations were Bakery Valuations which were followed by payroll and inventory. It was used to calculate the stock needed for the following day in the numerous Lyons Tea establishments around the country. It was so successful that Lyons started to loan LEO to other companies such as Ford UK for calculating their payroll, leading to the beginnings of an outsourcing service.

It is widely accepted that the first ATM was put into use by Barclays Bank in its Enfield Town branch in north London, on 27 June 1967.This machine was inaugurated by English comedy actor Reg Varney. Customers were issued with paper vouchers which were inserted into the machine and dispensed a single £10 note.
The first modern ATM was an IBM 2984 and came into use at Lloyds Bank, Brentwood
High Street, Essex, England in December 1972. The IBM 2984 was designed at the request of Lloyds Bank. The 2984 Cash Issuing Terminal was the first true ATM, similar in function to today’s machines and named by Lloyds Bank: Cashpoint

In 1980, Lloyds of London brought out a ‘computer leasing insurance.’ Businesses could insure against technological advances making their computers obsolete. It was a stupid idea on Lloyds part, they lost 400 million pounds as policyholders claimed on their policies as technology quickly advanced.

The transition to computerised systems wasn’t always so smooth as The riots at News International in Wapping by trade unionists demonstrated in 1986. In the mid-80s, most British newspapers were still produced using hot metal, despite the widespread use elsewhere of modern offset litho technology. Robert Murdoch owner of New International which produced The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and The News of the World secretly built and equipped a new printing plant using all the latest technology in Wapping intending to relocate from the old headquarters in Fleet Street. Journalists would be able to write articles directly on to the computer saving time and labour in the print halls. The ensuing dispute with the 5,000 sacked workers and sympathisers went on for one year. More than 1,000 arrests were made and nine people died. The other leading newspapers followed suit in relocating to Docklands and changed their printing practices to use the new technology. Which just goes to show there’s no stopping progress.

After The Big Bang of 1986 the great institution of The London Stock Exchange started to conduct their trading via computer rather than face to face on the market floor. A wily old gent I know who worked as an oil trader was disappointed at this change as he had made plenty of money in the past by disputing hand signals.

So London has been a leader in the rise and use of technology. Computers in The City started over twenty years ago and have been at the forefront of the IT outsourcing services in The City of London. For more information, please get in touch: