Page 11 - History 2020
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Sir William Armstrong at Cragside

            Samuel Smiles’ engineering heroes were all of the age of steam. Sir William
            Armstrong belonged to the next generation; his thing was hydraulics. He freed this up
            by inventing the weighted hydraulic accumulator which used weights to create high
            water pressure, one of those little-known, unglamorous inventions that helped
            create the modern world. Thanks to Armstrong, hydraulics could be used anywhere,
            to power cranes, lift bridges open dock-gates, operate naval gun turrets and raise
            lifts. He became Newcastle’s biggest employer, also building warships and artillery.
            He built a swing bridge to allow big ships to reach his works at Elswick. In 1893 he

            built and installed the steam pumping engines, hydraulic accumulators and hydraulic
            pumping engines for the new Tower Bridge.

            Like many industrialists, Armstrong built himself a country mansion. As we’ll explore
            later, this was in itself a significant cultural statement, industrialists seeking to adopt
            the trappings of aristocracy. But Cragside, built on a cliff-top overlooking pine trees
            and a river, had a few innovative features as you’d expect from a top engineer and

            inventor. Shaw, its architect (see below), visited and marvelled at “wonderful
            hydraulic machines that do all sorts of things you can imagine.”

            Armstrong created five new lakes, installed a hydraulic engine,
            And in 1870 a Siemens dynamo to make the world’s first hydroelectric power station.
            The generators provided electricity for the estate farm and had to be continually
            extended to meet increasing demands. He installed an arc lamp in his picture gallery
            in 1878, but in 1880 he got hold of one of Joseph Swan’s incandescent lamps. Swan

            considered Armstrong’s set-up Cragside as “the first proper installation” of electric
            lighting anywhere in the world.  Armstrong knew Swan and had chaired his
            presentation of his new lamps to Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society.
            Other Cragside novelties included hydraulic lifts, central heating, a dishwasher,
            vacuum cleaner, a washing machine and a spa. The house and estate buildings had
            their own internal telephone system. The kitchen had a hydraulic spit. The

            conservatory had a self-watering system for the pot-plants on water-powered
            revolving stands. Among the pine-trees Armstrong also grew bananas. He had a
            second Northumbrian residence up the road, at Bamburgh, one of Britain’s more
            gigantic castles. Here the fixtures and fittings were more conventionally medieval.

            However, Cragside embodies a dizzying contradiction: its architectural style. It was
            designed by Norman Shaw, an eminent late-Victorian architect, who was allowed to
            fully indulge his magpie imagination. The result is a rambling Victorian pile in a sort of
            Arthurian ginger-bread style, a wild mash-up of gables, arches, turrets, crenellations,

            tall chimneys, Tudor beams, wide Elizabethan windows, William Morris stained glass
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