Let there be light. Lord Armstrong (who founded the Armstrong Whitworth manufacturing concern on Tyneside. He was also an eminent scientist, inventor and philanthropist, considered to be the father of modern artillery) spent much of his time as a child in Rothbury to get away from industrial Newcastle to alleviate his ill health. 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. 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.
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 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. A new hydro-powered electricity generator was installed in 2014; it can provide 12 kW representing around 10% of the property's electricity consumption. The new system uses an Archimedes' screw 17 metres (56 ft) long . 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. At one point, the building included an astronomical observatory and a scientific laboratory.
The Grade I listed 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. Some challenging terrain and distances. Mobility parking in main car park, 120 yards from visitor centre. Wheelchairs available to borrow in the house and grounds – please book in advance. Assistance dogs welcome in all areas. Level access to shop and tea-rooms. Adapted toilets at Visitor Centre, House and Crozier car park (near to play area). Free shuttle bus service between main areas. Every Wednesday is Victorian baking day when you will be assailed by the most delicious aromas, a good day to visit.
Location : Rothbury, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE65 7PX
Transport: Morpeth (National Rail) 17 miles. Newcastle (National Rail) then bus.To nearby Rothbury, Arriva X14 bus from Newcastle Haymarket, Monday to Saturday. Spirit Buses Monday to Sundays.
Opening Times: Daily 11:00 to 17:00
Tickets: Adults £15.90 Children £7.80
Gardens: Adults £10.20 Children £5.10
Tel: 01669 620333