Science & engineering at Cragside

A young Lord William Armstrong © Andrew Sawyer

A young Lord William Armstrong

From an early age, the young William Armstrong had a natural aptitude for all things mechanical, taking apart toys to find out how they worked, and inventing and making his own with materials found around the house.

Lord Armstrong was an engineer through and through and he brought his wealth of professional experience as a great civil and mechanical engineer to brilliant effect at Cragside. He knew how to move water about after working on a project to bring fresh drinking water to Newcastle.

Building and civil engineering wasn’t a problem; he had seen his factory built and knew all about bridge construction. Mechanical engineering was his meat and drink at his Elswick Works on the Tyne. He was 53 when he started Cragside and knew his stuff, and if he didn’t know something, he certainly knew someone who did.

His technical and scientific mind made Cragside a wonder of its age and provided incomparable luxuries. Imagine the task of installing an infrastructure of pipes and a hydraulic engine that pumped thousands of gallons of fresh water to the House enabling:

  • Hot running water
  • Cold running water
  • A Turkish bath suite
  • A hot room
  • A rain shower
  • A plunge bath

The meat in front of the kitchen range was turned by a little ‘Scotch Mill’ water turbine, still in operation today. A hydraulic passenger lift was based on the ‘jigger’ technology he had developed for his world famous cranes. Ranks of cast iron pipes and radiators provided central heating, and, just to make everything safe, a fire hydrant ring main surrounded the house.

Water was to give Cragside its ‘world’s first’ status when he developed hydroelectricity here in 1878. Then, in 1880, the house had one of the first proper installations of his friend Joseph Swan’s light bulbs. A bright, clean form of lighting was introduced into domestic use, making Cragside the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.