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Visit to Cragside House near Rothbury, Northumberland 20th May 2012
Cragside the house and its estate was the ancestral home of the Armstrong family. Lord Armstrong was an innovator who created his wealth from ordnance and heavy engineering industry. The engineering was concentrated on mechantile and hydraulics. Cragside the house was built over the period 1870 - 1885 including the many extensions, improvements and upgrading occurring during that period.
The house was built on a bare and rugged hillside above Rothbury, and became one of the most modern and surprising houses for its time. In the 1880's, the house had hot and cold running water, central heating, fire alarms, telephones, a Turkish bath suite and a passenger lift - but most remarkable of all - it was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. In 1868, a hydraulic engine was installed, with water being used to power labour-saving machines such as laundry equipment, a rotisserie and a hydraulic lift. In 1870, water from one of the estate's lakes was used to drive a Siemens dynamo in what was the world's first hydroelectric power station. The resultant electricity was used to power incandescent lamps in the house which was considered 'the first proper installation' of electric lighting.
The generators, which also provided power for the farm buildings on the estate, were constantly extended and improved to match the increasing electrical demand in the house. As the house still contains its original contents, you step back into late Victorian times and see how far ahead of its time it was. Around the house is one of Europe's largest rock gardens, which tumbles down the valley towards the Debdon Burn. In the valley bottom you will find the tallest Douglas Fir in England. Across the valley, hidden amongst the trees is the clock tower. This clock not only struck the hours, but also used to chime the starting, finishing and meal times of the estate workers. It can still be heard across the estate. Seven million trees and bushes were planted to cover the bare hillside and create the wooded estate you can explore today.