A few weeks ago I watched a video that was broadcast on Nationwide in 1971 about what made Rothbury so unique. The reason why they visited Rothbury was because the whole town had no street names! Even the locals didn’t know the name of the streets that their houses were located on! This meant that the postman just had to know which house was which in order for him to post the right letters to the right house.
Fast forward to 2019 and now the majority of the streets in Rothbury have names but still not all of them. However, this isn’t the only thing Rothbury is famous for. A certain house known as Cragside is renowned as being the first home in the world to be lit by
Cragside is a Victorian country house that is located just one and a half miles outside of Rothbury. The house was built between 1869 and 1895 for the scientist, philanthropist and inventor William Armstrong. Armstrong is somewhat regarded as a pioneer in technology. Not only did he make Cragside the first home in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, but he also invented the hydraulic crane and the Armstrong gun. The house itself quickly became one of the most technologically advanced houses of it’s time, packed with all kinds of gadgets and modern conveniences. Within the grounds of the house Armstrong later went on to build dams and lakes to power a sawmill and was also one of the first homes to have a dishwasher, vacuum cleaner and a washing machine. This is why Cragside is widely regarded as the place where modern living began.
After Armstrong died in 1900, his heirs failed to maintain the house and estate and by the early 1970’s plans were underway for the development of the estate. The house has been owned by the National Trust since 1977 and has been open to the public since 1979.
In 1953 the house was also pronounced a Grade 1 listed building.
So seeing as I’m a member of the National Trust, I thought a visit to Cragside was a complete no brainer.
Prices for entrance are relatively average for non National Trust members, with a family ticket for a family of 4 (two adults and two children) costing £47.50.
As you enter the estate, the first thing you will notice is Nelly’s Moss lakes; the two lakes that were created by Lord Armstrong to supply water and power to the house. The lakes are also home to various types of wildlife including frogs, toads and herons and are also
popular with walkers who can complete a 1.5 mile walk around both the lakes.
After parking up we strolled back down the hill towards the lakes and took a left turn to head towards the iron bridge. The iron bridge crosses the Debdon Burn and was constructed in the 1870’s. After the National Trust took ownership of the house in 1977, an extensive restoration project began on the iron bridge which eventually led to the bridge becoming a grade 2 listed structure. The bridge reopened to the public in 2009.
As you go across the iron bridge and down into the Debdon Burn you will be in awe of the view that lies in front of you. A stunning view of the house and iron bridge, surrounded by conifer trees (including the tallest Scots pine in Britain which stands at 131 foot!). The perfect picture-postcard setting.
We then made our way up to the formal gardens. The garden is situated at the top of the valley with idyllic views of the Northumberland countryside below and it is also within close proximity of the clock tower; another grade 2 listed building. The formal gardens are also the location of the Orchard House which is one of the largest surviving glasshouses from the 1870’s. The house is now home to Armstrong’s original earthenware pots and also produces fruits such as figs and pears. I can imagine that the gardens look extra delightful in Spring time when all the flowers are in bloom and the trees have grown back their leaves!
Unfortunately we were unable to go inside the clock tower as it is currently under restoration.
As we had seen very little wildlife in the early stages of our visit, we thought it would be a good idea to observe from the wildlife hide. We all had high hopes of seeing a red squirrel, however it wasn’t to be. On the other hand, we did manage to spot different
species of birds including a robin, goldfinches and a goldcrest.
We then descended back down into the valley and made our way along the path to the screw turbine which was installed in 2014. This turbine alone can provide 12KW and supplies 10% of the estate’s electricity consumption.
Before heading off to explore the house itself, we walked parallel to the lakes and made our way to the Museum and shop. While we were walking we noticed that the estate has it’s very own shuttle bus service; hop on and off every 15 minutes!
After visiting the museum, which i found to be very informative, we made our way to the house. This avant garde Victorian manor house stands at the top of the valley with stunning views of Debdon Burn below.
The first room that we entered was the library and dining room. The room contains a billiard table, a large bay window and a fireplace that includes fragments of onyx which were collected by Armstrong after a visit to Egypt in 1872. Both the library and dining room contain some of Armstrong’s finest pictures including Albert Joseph Moore’s follow my leader from 1872.
We made our way to the canteen which is a very large room, even by today’s standards. The dumb waiter and spit are both located in the kitchen and both were also run on hydraulic power. Underneath the kitchen is the Turkish bath suite, very similar in appearance to the Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset. The main purpose of the bath suite was to help support the provision of heating for the house using the steam that was generated.
The Owl Suite is located on the second floor of the house. The name originates from the carvings of owls that are located on the woodwork and the bed. This was also the room that the Prince and Princess of Wales occupied when they visited Cragside in 1884.
The gallery provides a corridor to the drawing room with small rooms located on each side of the corridor. In one of the side rooms lies a grand piano which can be played by anyone (preferably people who can actually play the piano though!). The drawing room itself was constructed in the 1880’s and contains a marble ingelnook chimney-piece which is widely considered to be one of the biggest inglenooks in the world!
The final room that we entered was the billiard room. As expected, this room is the location of a large billiard table which is open to the public. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to show everyone my snooker skills (good job really!).
Before we concluded our visit we took a walk to the Rock garden which is located at the front of the house. The rock garden is one of the largest man made rock gardens in Europe and is planted with heathers, heaths and azaleas. If you follow the path down from the garden you will be led to Debdon Burn.
So overall, I found the whole experience of Cragside truly mesmerising. The estate tells a fantastic story of an innovative scientist that played a huge part in changing the definition of modern day living.
This place is a must see for anyone that is interested in science and technology! I would also recommend fellow National Trust members to visit as well.
Thanks for reading,