The growth of the computer in the Partnership, 1970-1989

A Partner with some electro-magnetic tape, essential equipment for the early computer, c1970s
Clipstone Street computers in operation, 1978-1979
The Bonds Home Computers department, 1983

A feared object

After its auspicious start at Stevenage, the computer grew in popularity, both internally and externally of the Partnership. Increasingly, it was becoming an everyday object, although very much embraced by some and feared by many. In the Gazette of 23rd January 1971, the publication made the announcement that it would be starting a computer column declaring that

Most of us tend to regard the computer as a strange beast that mutters to itself in corners[…] Below, a special correspondent – who has some knowledge of the beast – introduces what we hope will be a regular series giving news of the computer’s activities.

New offices, new computer model

Earlier in the year, new John Lewis Head Offices were opened at 12 and 14 Clipstone Street, in order to deal with the continued growth of the business. Delivered to the new offices was one brand new computer, and another computer already used in the Partnership. The new computer had twice the work capacity of the older model, thus demonstrating how quickly advances were being made in the field!

Becoming sellable

By the 1980’s, rapid advancements in technology meant that the size of computer components had dramatically decreased. Remarkably, more data could now be held on components and software that was vastly smaller in size. Computers had already become a business necessity, but now they were turning into a commercially viable product. The personal need for one was growing all the time, and the fact that it could fit snugly into a corner of the room, rather than occupying the entirety of it, meant public interest in the computer soared.

The rise of the computer department

Little surprise then that the 80’s was the decade in which computers to buy first appeared in the department stores of the John Lewis Partnership. When the brand new Bond’s of Norwich re-opened as a Partnership store in 1984, the new computer department took pride of place. A technological revolution was taking place. And the Partners were feeling it too. For in offices everywhere, a ‘beast’ was installing itself into the corner of the room, absolutely intent on making everyone’s lives easier.

Comments about this page

  • I worked in the Clipstone Street computer centre in from 1974 to 1976 having transferred from Peter Jones in Sloane Square. We had two mainframes, an IBM360/50 and an IBM 370/125. At that time getting data into the computers was achieved with 029 punch card readers, paper-tape readers and an IBM 1270 Optical Character reader used for the ‘fashion tags’ that arrived nightly from all the retail stores. The data was held on banks of IBM 3340 Winchester drives and IBM tape drives. Output was on IBM 1403 printers.
    The mainframe 370/125 had a memory of about 1mb and the disks about 30mb each. All this was on a floor of the centre measuring about 300-400sq metres. The question I’m often asked is the relative power between say, a top spec Android or iPhone, a laptop/desktop and those 1970’s mainframes. The answer is, it’s not even close. Today’s handheld’s and PC’s are thousands of times more powerful and thousands of times cheaper. That’s fifty years of technology!

    By Lucas Nelson (21/02/2024)

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