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Behind The Scenes At A BRAND NEW Computer Museum!
The North West Computer Museum in Leigh, Wigan, (just outside Manchester) is a brand new museum covering the history of computing and gaming from the 1970s onwards. Still under construction, take a look behind the scenes with me on this exclusive museum tour, and also check out some of the awesome thrifting pickups I managed to get my hands on at their recent jumble sale.
This weekend I was invited up to the North West Computer Museum in Leigh, just outside Manchester. As mentioned in my previous video, I love this kind of stuff anyway, but I was particularly tempted by their jumble sale and the opportunity to pick up some bargains - more on that soon.
But first, I really want to talk about this amazing venue - Spinners Mill is a grade II listed cotton mill dating back to 1913 - and is still partly in use as a mill today. The top 4 floors are in the process of being refurbished and converted with artists’ spaces, cafes, workshops, a gym and even a cinema - and of course the North West Computer Museum, and who better to ask about this incredible building than the museum’s founder, Joe.
This space that you have here is absolutely amazing. What’s the story behind it?
The mill was built around 110 years ago - it was a cotton mill, and basically it had five floors, and as technology became better they started going down one level, down one level and so on. So now they’re actually still here but they’re on the ground level - so obviously they had a massive mill which literally was going to rack and ruin. A trust took over the mill and there’s basically been - over the last four years - has been developing units on the floors.
We’re actually on the fourth floor - there’s five floors - so the fifth floor will be complete next year. But we will be open and completed within the next couple of months - hopefully before Christmas.
As you can see, the museum space is still very much under construction - they’ve unfortunately had a few setbacks over the past couple of years as we all have but are now on track to be open by Christmas - so I asked Joe where it all started and what his vision was now things were back up to speed on the building work.
It started about four or five years ago when I had the idea. It was actually only an idea - except I mentioned it to a friend, who then mentioned it to somebody else, and by the time I realised this boulder had started moving and more and more people wanted to know about it.
I ended up speaking to the chief exec of Wigan Council and it all started from there.
So obviously I thought “maybe I should go ahead with this?”
One of the things which I really wanted to pass on to people who wanted to visit is the history and the timeline of the computers, from the 1970s when I started computers - in ‘78 at school we had a Tandy TRS-80 model one - and I just fell in love with it and it literally just started from there.
The first computer I ever owned, that my mum and dad bought me, was a Commodore VIC-20 - and yes I still have fuzzy feelings around that!
So I want to allow people to not only learn about computers, but experience computers - what I experienced.
We’re working with other museums down in Cambridge, in The Netherlands, Germany - so we are actively talking and looking at future projects together.
We also have an internet cafe, because one of the things we want people to do is spend the day here. So when you’ve been around the museum and you’ve sat on a Commodore 64 for a couple of hours you can go and have a little coffee and something to eat, and you can come back in.
One of the things which I want to do is to work with the community - and in this day and age - you know - where people can’t afford much nowadays - is that we are offering a facility within our community area so people can actually use computers, printers and internet free of charge and keep warm as well.
As well as the historical side of things, Joe and his team of volunteers are very keen to involve the local community and in particular schools, with educational workshops teaching programming skills and electronics.
The Educational Suite is not only learning about programming - ie BASIC and going on to C and so on - but also electronics. You know, “how do chips work?”, “what are resistors?” and so on, and also creating applications for VR.
On that note, the museum has also created a range of DIY electronics kits which will be available to purchase so kids and adults alike can continue to follow along with their in-house educational programme at home.
Wandering around the museum I can see some new construction - Joe tells me he’s built these two rooms himself - so I asked what the plan was for these spaces.
In one of the rooms we also have a 1980s and a ‘70s office - you can actually sit down and use the computers of that time and you can actually see how technology changed even in the business world within the two decades.
We’ve also got an arcade as well - a mini arcade - so you can actually experience what we experienced back in the ‘80s on the old Space Invaders and my favourite Defender.
It has been a long process to get this to where we are now because unfortunately - as we all have - we have suffered from covid and we have lost two years.
So yeah, it’s not been an easy ride.
Thankfully things are very much looking up for the North West Computer Museum, and their first public event was this jumble sale down on the second floor, which they’ve put on this weekend to clear out some excess stock and also to raise some funds to help get them over the finish line with the last few bits and pieces that they need like electrics and carpets.
There was still a fair bit left at the end of the day after I’d done the tour and whatnot, for example in amongst the boring modern stuff I came across these very nice Altos CP/M machines.
They also had a big pile of rather rusty and I’m told not working - Commodore PET disk drives, right next to these Compaq luggables.
How about this Philips Videopac console from 1983? I’m actually regretting not grabbing this.
A couple of Amstrad e-mailers, brand new in box, which is the best place for them - other than landfill.
Nice to see Atari represented with some XL machines and - of course - the obligatory 2600s.
And this rather nice Commodore PET, which I’m told was complete when they put it out but was somehow missing a key by the end of the day which is sad to see and I hope the person who stole it burns in silicon hell for all eternity.
Anyway, lets not dwell on that… IBM was of course well represented with a selection of XT and AT machines, more on those in a second, and I particularly enjoyed this Christmas window projector thing. Yep, apparently someone actually donated that.
Lots of assorted stuff - game controllers, some cassette games and a big pile of old laptops.
This Wii speaker set was - er - interesting I guess.
I particularly enjoyed rummaging through this box of old cards and I was surprised to see that they still have S3 ViRGE cards left at the end of the day. I would’ve thought they’d be the first things to go.
Apparently this is a 1960s hairdryer. Indeed.
Oh, I thought this big old VHS camcorder was really cool too.
And of course they also had their own mugs and merchandise for sale as well.
So I ended up getting back pretty late from Manchester and it’s been a couple of days now, but I wanted to show the stuff that I bought at the jumble sale.
Now, I didn’t actually go in expecting to spend a huge amount of money, but it was the end of the day and I was just leaving and Joe basically collared me and was like “oh, you’ve got to take this, you’ve got to take that, you’ve got to take that!” so I did end up picking up a few bits and pieces.
So let’s have a look at them!
First up we have not one, but two IBM PC ATs, and this is a model that I don’t have. I’ve got the original XT and I’ve got the XT-286 - I’ve covered both of those on the channel previously - and I suppose it was inevitable that I would get my hands on an AT at some point.
The really cool thing about these is that some of them were donated from another museum that had the cases powder coated, and the finish on these is absolutely fantastic. It’s exactly the right colour, it’s exactly the right finish, they do look brand new.
So I picked up this second one which has quite a few bits missing just for that powder coated case - which this one doesn’t have. This one hasn’t been opened up - it’s still got all the screws in it and they didn’t know what was inside it. I don’t know what’s inside it! So I guess we’ll find out in a future video.
…and on that note there’s also a 5150 - an IBM XT - now, of course I already have one of these and again it’s got one of those really nice powder coated cases. So even though the rest of it is really grubby and it’s quite rusty inside - and the motherboard looks in quite a bad way from what I’ve seen - it does have that lovely powder coated case so that will be going on to my XT.
It also has some kind of RAM expansion card in it - which haven’t really had a proper look at yet - but they’re always quite handy to have. So I thought “yeah, I’ll grab it for that”.
Also I’ve just spotted it’s got the hard drive in it, so maybe that’ll work, maybe it won’t. Probably not!
But certainly some fun stuff to potentially explore on the channel in the future.
Two Atari 2600 “Light Sixers” - that’s the 6-switch woodgrain model - of course, quite common. One of them is really filthy, one’s actually quite clean and quite nice.
I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with these yet - they were quite insistent that I took them, obviously being an Atari guy and whatnot.
I think what I probably will do is fix them up and mod them and sell them and maybe raise some money for the museum for their opening - so potentially a charity auction at some point in the future. I haven’t discussed that with them yet but I’ll just throw the money at them if they say no!
So yeah, two Atari 2600s!
Yep! I bought the S3 ViRGE cards…
…and the reason for that is because the S3 ViRGE video that I made a couple of years ago really put my channel on the map and it was kind of one of my first successful videos - and if you haven’t seen it, I went through and found every single game that was designed for this very early 3D accelerator card - quite often referred to as a “3D decelerator” card because they were quite notoriously bad!
The card that I used for that was a ViRGE DX, which just happened to come in a PC that I bought at the time. Now this, what I’ve actually found here is the original S3 ViRGE, and a ViRGE VX which was one that came after the DX, and apparently these are particularly bad.
So I thought “why not complete the set and maybe at some point I can make a video about those?”
But I couldn’t just leave them there after they’ve been sat in that box all day.
So - S3 ViRGEs!
Yup, I bought the PET!
… and a disk drive which I don’t have a cable for unfortunately - apparently they’re very rare.
Again, zero intention of actually buying this going in but it was as I was leaving, Joe was very insistent - and who could say no to a face like that?
So yes, I’m now the proud owner of an incomplete Commodore PET with a missing key and an exploded capacitor, so hopefully that’ll be fun to take a look at on the channel.
Of course the screen has really bad screen burn - I’m not sure if you can see that actually - so I’ll probably need to track down a new tube- a new green screen tube for a tube swap on that, and it should be a fun one to get up and running.
I’m not sure there’s really a lot that you can actually do with them - I don’t really know anything about the PET at all - but it might be a fun one to learn about and get it up and running and do something with it.
So big thanks to Joe at the North West Computer Museum and of course his amazing team of volunteers for putting that event together - and of course for putting the museum together as well - and particularly Jack for reaching out to me and inviting me over for that event and to cover their progress so far.
Of course I’m going to stay in touch with them, I’m going to be making future videos just covering the build of the museum and of course the grand opening so that should be really interesting.
I’m also potentially helping them out in setting up YouTube and podcasts and that kind of stuff as well - so really, really cool.
Big thanks as always to my patrons and channel members for making things like this possible - particularly purchases of equipment that will be covered on the channel.
Of course it’s very, very much appreciated and it keeps these videos rolling which is fantastic.
…and I think I will leave the final word with Joe.
So yeah, if you’re in the area pop in and come and see me, and you never know - you might get a coffee out of it.
Shall we just go for a pint instead?
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