Lord Armstrong - the man at work

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Lord William Armstrong
Managing director of Elswick Works
Cragside, Northumberland

What was Lord Armstrong like? Words like focused, driven, inspirational, visionary, entrepreneurial would be used today to describe this very individual man.

  • If you had to select a single trait, it would be as a ‘great thinker’. He had the phenomenal ability to shut out the rest of the world around him, to a point where those around him wondered if he was still alive. From this trance like state he would emerge with a plan formulated in his mind, ready for action.
  • He was extremely industrious too, despite being delicate as a child; he possessed a great work ethic, as well as an enquiring mind. Evan Rowland Jones, in his biographical sketches ‘Heroes of Industry’, published in 1886, states - ‘He enjoyed a never failing store of amusement in making mechanical combinations with old spinning wheels and other adaptable articles to be found at home. He set his machinery in motion by the aid of descending weights suspended over the railing of the staircase.’
  • On leaving school, his love of engineering was not to be his chosen profession. His father pushed him in the direction of a career in law and he became a solicitor. However, this was to be a great advantage in the long term, as he entered the law office, of his father’s friend, Armorer Donkin.
  • However, his heart was always in mechanics and the physical sciences. This consumed all his spare time and he often presented his thoughts to the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle.
  • He struggled with the concept of patents, contending there was nothing new, just a variation of what had gone before. The thinking process was never complete, always ticking away, for him to conclude – ‘However high we climb in the pursuit of knowledge we shall still see heights above us, and the more we extend our view, the more conscious we shall be of the immensity which lies beyond’.
  • Even in the closing years of his long life he was carrying out experiments into electricity, working from 9am to 7.30pm, with only a ten minutes break snatched for lunch. Tirelessly searching for the next height beyond. 
  • His memorial in Newcastle probably sums up his achievements, with the inscription ‘He stood astride the Victorian era like a colossus’, but there’s more to the man than that.

Take a look at our opening times and visit Cragside, where you will discover more about Lord Armstrong and his way of life.