Rochdale's First Computer
In 1967 Woolworth opened a new administrative hub in Castleton near Rochdale, Lancashire, England. Called the Central Accounting Office, it included a large Distribution Centre, printing facilities, offices for members of the Finance department, and the Company's first modern computers.
The thinking behind the facility came from the parent company in the USA. It replicated many of the features that had proved successful in Chicago, Illinois, and used many of the same systems.
The large air-conditioned computer room housed two I.C.T. mainframe computers, called the 1903 and the 1904. These were able to process many hundreds of instructions every second, and were used mainly to run the Distribution Centre. They also processed store orders, calculated stock control data and were use to reconcile and aggregate the store accounts.
Most staff for the new site were recruited locally. The workforce was supplemented by IT experts and a number of store managers as a rung on the career ladder. Some of the new recruits were trained as computer operators, others learnt to use comptometer machines.
When the computers were first implemented all input was by punched paper tape. This had to be carefully prepared by punch operators who worked in upstairs offices at Castleton. It was then 'fed in' by computer operators.
(Left : paper tape for data input)
(Left: 80 column card for data input.)
Another early use for the computers was to scan in special till rolls created by the electro-mechanical cash registers of the chain's Woolco out-of-town superstores. These were basic by modern standards, but the central mainframe made it was possible to review store performance by range ("department") each month - allowing the product selection and display layouts to be refined and improved.
The original I. C. T. equipment was rather less powerful than a simple digital watch today. It had about a hundredth of the processing power of a basic 'pay-as-you-go' mobile phone. It was this type of technology that helped Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin to land on the moon, while Michael Collins kept an eye on the console back in orbit. The guys in the computer room often get forgotten, but frequently hold the mission together!
Shorcuts to related content in the Woolworths Museum