I adore Cragside. I have been visiting the estate at Cragside, for years. Every time we go, we always have a fantastic day out, whatever the weather. My grandma, used to walk most afternoons during the Summer months, around the Cragside estate, pushing my mum in her pram. My great grandparents had a house in Rothbury, very close to Cragside, so our family has been regularly visiting, even before the National Trust opened the property to the general public in 1979.
Cragside was originally built, as a weekend home for the 1st Lord Armstrong. He is one of the true great Victorians. He was a lawyer, manufacturer, inventor and philanthropist, with the North East of England benefitting greatly, from the employment opportunities he provided, through his business ventures. He was fascinated by science and very keen on the uses of hydraulic mechanisms. W.G. Armstrong and Company produced a wide variety of machinery and equipment, ranging from hydraulic cranes, dock gates, steam engines as well as artillery. He gave very generously towards good causes and although he lived in the Victorian era, his inventive mind, has contributed to our modern day lives. Here we have a photo of an early primitive dishwasher, which he designed to make life easier for his kitchen staff. In the Butler’s pantry, there is an example of an early internal telephone system and a soda stream. He was friends with some of the most influential minds of this era. He exchanged letters with Michael Faraday, on the subject of hydro electricity and Joseph Swan tried out his idea for lightbulbs, here at Cragside.
When you first enter the estate, you sweep around in a gentle curve, following the road across Tumbleton Lake. The visitors centre and stable block buildings, are to your left and following the signposted road round, you will head towards one of the many car parks, available throughout the estate.
There is plenty to see at Cragside and you can spend a whole day, covering the whole estate. There are many different walks, leading to places such as The Power House, formal gardens, Pump House, Nelly’s Labirynth, Adventure play area, Trim trails, as well as all the various lakes and woodland paths, dotted around. The house is a fascinating glimpse into the Victorian age, but owned by a very modern, for that time, thinking owner. Cragside had a central heating system, the dishwasher and was the first house in the world, to be lit using electricity derived from hydro electricity.
Lord Armstrong used his inventive mind, to help make his household staff’s working life easier. As well as the primitive dishwasher, there was a hydraulic lift, so they didn’t have to carry heavy pots and pans up and downstairs, between the kitchen and scullery. There was a hydraulic passenger lift for them, to help carry the heavy coal to the upper floors of the house and a hydraulic system used in the kitchen, for turning spits at the stove, when cooking meat.
The library at Cragside, was the first in the world, to be lit using the incandescent electric light, powered of course, by Lord Armstrong’s hydro electric generator. The Cloisonne enamel lamps in the library, were converted to use electricity and were lit using lightbulbs invented by Lord Armstrong’s friend, Joseph Swan of Newcastle.
The interiors of Cragside House, feature some of the big names of the Victorian Arts and Crafts period. I love the 4 stained glass windows, that were designed by William Morris, either side of the fireplace in the dining room. They represent the four seasons and are beautiful in design, but also feature in the portrait of Lord Armstrong, painted by the Newcastle artist, Henry Hetherington Emmerson, in the early 1880′s. Standing in the dining room, you can glance from the portrait to the fireplace, almost imagining, that he has just left the room, a moment ago.
The library also features stained glass, that was designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne Jones and Ford Madox Brown. Four panels portraying famous writers and six panels following the life of St George.
This is a portrait of William Armstrong as a law student by James Ramsay, 1831, which is currently on display in the study. The house is fascinating to walk around with children, as there is plenty of different things to look at and talk about.
Children are made to feel very welcome and there are often activities taking place at Cragside, especially designed for the younger visitor. Mine used to love completing the items to spot activities or looking for the themed things, as we looked around the property. We of course, had to try the hats on, the deerstalker definitely had a touch of Sherlock about it.
As this is a home from the Victorian era, you will encounter the collections of dead things on display, the art of taxidermy, that the Victorians seemed so fond of. Lord Armstrong was an avid collector of things, both art and objects of interest. Lord Armstrong’s art collection was mostly sold off, by his successor to the title, to pay off his debts. Lord Armstrong was friends with John Hancock, who campaigned for the Hancock Museum, now called The Great North Museum, with his brother Albany Hancock.
In August 1884 the then Prince and Princess of Wales, came to stay at Cragside as guests. The royal rooms are known as the owl suite, as there’s a bit of an owl theme occurring in the rooms. The royal bedroom has carved wooden owls, at the foot of the bed and a dress on display, that was worn at the time of the visit.
There is a pretty impressive Italian marble inglenook chimney piece, in the drawing room. Designed and installed in honour of the royal visit, it dominates the drawing room and my photo certainly doesn’t do it justice.
Cragside is full of rooms to explore, a glimpse into the past, of what it would have been like, to be a very rich Victorian. But at the same time, it feels like a family home. I can imagine people living here, not like sometimes, when you visit a historical property and a museum like feel, has settled well and truly over the place.
Once you have finished exploring the house, there is a whole woodland estate, just waiting for you to venture in. The National Trust are constantly maintaining the grounds, re opening old pathways and improving the grounds, for pleasure walking.
Below the house there is the Rock garden and a beautiful arched steel footbridge, spanning the deep ravine of Debdon Burn. There are many pathways covering this area, you can walk to the formal gardens, call in at the wildlife hide and follow the paths that run through the estate.
The estate is truly a pleasure ground to walk around. We visit Cragside year round and even during the cold, Winter months, its still fun to visit. This carved wooden face, was made all the more interesting, for his icicle goaty, that he was sporting on a particularly cold day.
Many a happy time playing Pooh sticks on this bridge, when the offspring were little and obsessed with Winnie the Pooh. I love the naturalness of the gardens, even though they were all pre planned and planted up, on what was a bleak, Northumbrian moorland.
The Pump House and Power House which contains the battery storage area, are situated in the lower grounds. The turbines which generated the electricity, were powered with water from Nelly’s Moss Lake. There are displays and some hands on activities for children, to explain about hydro electricity.
There are plenty of ways to entertain children at Cragside. There is a lovely adventure playground near Nelly’s Moss Lake, which also has a large car park beside, as well as a place selling refreshments and a toilet block.
We always used to park up by the adventure play area, when the offspring were little, as after a busy day of walking and exploring, they could always find that extra burst of energy, to find our way back to the playground.
In amongst the woodland walks, there are plenty of wood carvings and play areas to be discovered. Nelly’s Labyrinth contains carvings and play equipment in different areas, making it an enchanting place, for children to explore.
The estate is quite large, but there is no chance of getting lost, as most of the pathways lead to the house or visitors centre. Despite the number of visitors who come for a day out, Cragside still has a tranquil, relaxing feel to it. I love nothing better than sitting along the edge of Nelly’s Moss Lake, drinking coffee and just enjoying the view. William Armstrong decided on this location, because he felt this area has a restorative effect, upon his health. Spending time in Rothbury during a sickly childhood, he apparently always felt the better for it. I always find a day spent walking around the grounds in Cragside, with my family, mad, sometimes muddy dog, at my side, Cragside still works its magic and its like a balm to my soul.