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Cragside in Northumberland

June 14, 2014

Northumberland 079Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate of the Open University, reading Victorian history, I remember spending a great deal of time studying the Victorian industrialist William Armstrong (1810-1900) and his house at Cragside, near Rothbury in Northumberland.Northumberland 077

Armstrong was a scientist and innovator. He invented as a hobby. Much of Cragside was run by his own designed hydro-electric power system. As a factory owner in Newcastle, his companies made warships and guns. Some of the warships his firm constructed for the Japanese Navy were still in use at the time of Pearl Harbor. Nuff said!

He built Cragside near to Rothbury because he said the atmosphere of the locality had cured illnesses when he was a boy.

The house is impressive and dramatic and is now owned by the National Trust. There are some more intimate rooms inside, though it felt little like a home to me, compared to the more homely Wallington (see blogs passim).

But it does have some nice Victorian genre art, impressive Turkish baths and plunge pool and a really good servants’ quarter.

I must say it is the servants I think of most in these vast houses. The thought that the scullery maids often worked from six in the morning until 10.30 at night. And damned hard work at that. Don’t be conned by the fictions of Downton Abbey! It was really never like that.

I grew up knowing men and women who had been in service in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them hated every moment of it.

Armstrong famously resisted the campaign to reduce the working hours of his factory employees. But then he was a creature of his time.

Some of our politicians these days would love to bring back such a servile world. The thought shouldn’t be entertained.Northumberland 080

The grounds are mostly woodland and there are 40 miles of paths, a grand bird hide – and a 6-mile motor drive which we followed to see the lakes Armstrong constructed to power his hydro-electricity.

Cragside is unusual and well worth a visit.

But on the whole I prefer Wallington and the world of its Trevelyan owners,

 

 

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