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General information
Type Country house
Location Rothbury, Northumberland
Country England
Coordinates 55°18′49″N 1°53′08″W / 55.31361°N 1.88556°W / 55.31361; -1.88556Coordinates: 55°18′49″N 1°53′08″W / 55.31361°N 1.88556°W / 55.31361; -1.88556 (grid reference NU0702)
Completed 1863 (1863)
Renovated 2007
Owner National Trust
Grounds 400 hectares (1.54 sq mi)
Design and construction
Architect Richard Norman Shaw
Designations Grade I listed

Cragside is a country house near the town of Rothbury in Northumberland, England. It was the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power. Built into a rocky hillside above a forest garden of just under 1,000 acres, it was the country home of armaments manufacturer, Lord Armstrong,[1] and has been in the care of the National Trust since 1977. The property was opened to the public in 1979.

Cragside, named after Cragend Hill above the house, was built in 1863 as a modest two-storey country lodge, but was subsequently extended to designs by Richard Norman Shaw, transforming it into an elaborate mansion in the Free Tudor style. At one point, the building included an astronomical observatory and a scientific laboratory. The Grade I listed[2] house is surrounded by one of Europe's largest rock gardens, a large number of rhododendrons and a large collection of mostly coniferous trees. One variety of rhododendron is named after Lady Armstrong.[3]


West exterior of Cragside designed by Richard Norman Shaw

Lord Armstrong spent much of his time as a child in Rothbury to get away from industrial Newcastle to alleviate his ill health.[4] He returned to Rothbury after not having a holiday for many years and decided to build a modest house on the side of a moorland crag.[5] The original house was completed in 1863 by an unknown architect but was transformed by architect Richard Norman Shaw between 1869 and 1884 into an imposing mansion. Cragside is an example of his English Gothic style. The interiors are of national importance for its collection of furnishings, furniture (much designed especially for Cragside), and fine and decorative arts, including work by many other outstanding designers of the age, such as John Hancock and Albany Hancock and William Morris.[6]

In 2007, Cragside reopened after undergoing "total refurbishment."[7]



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. Armstrong was inspired by a watermill on the Dee in Dentdale,[8] and 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 an arc lamp installed in the Gallery in 1878. The arc lamp was replaced in 1880 by Joseph Swan's incandescent lamps in what Swan 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. The 2006 regeneration project included extensive rewiring.[9]

A new hydro-powered electricity generator was installed in 2014; it can provide 12 kW, supplying around 10% of the property's electricity consumption. The new system uses an Archimedes' screw 17 metres (56 ft) long.[10]

The use of electricity in many of the houses gadgets and internal systems has also led it to be described by some as a smart home as it was the first private residence to use incandescent lighting, a dish washer, a vacuum cleaner and a washing machine. One of Armstrong's stated aims of both using and funding these new automation technologies was to "emancipate the world from household drudgery", as shown on a plaque at Bamburgh Castle, his other residence.

In the media[edit]

The Open University Arts Foundation Course (A102) featured Cragside in one of its programmes in 1987.[11]

The documentary series Abroad Again in Britain by Jonathan Meades focused on Cragside in episode 2 (2005).

Cragside was featured during the 21 August 2011 episode of BBC One's Britain's Hidden Heritage programme,[12] and in the 2013 ITV series Inside the National Trust, presented by Michael Buerk[13] The house and garden was also featured in the BBC One series of Glorious Gardens from above on 18 November 2014.[14]



Further reading[edit]

  • Henrietta Heald (2012), William Armstrong: Magician of the North. Alnwick, Northumberland: McNidder & Grace. ISBN 978-0857160-42-3.
  • Ken Smith (2005), Emperor of Industry: Lord Armstrong of Cragside. Newcastle: Tyne Bridge Publishing, 48pp. ISBN 1-85795-127-1.

External links[edit]