Rothbury and District Local History Society

Andrew Sawyer gave a talk on Lord Armstrong, From Birth to Death, at the latest meeting of Rothbury and District Local History Society.

From a sickly child who liked taking his toys apart and who hated school, William Armstrong, 1810-1900, went on to be recognised as one of the great Victorian leaders of science, engineering and the arts.

He was appointed to the Government Ordinance Committee, was created Baron by Queen Victoria and elected President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at 53, by his peers.

His parents and their friends were civic and social leaders and young Armstrong learnt to use his connections well.

This was to stand him in good stead throughout his life and seemed to be instrumental in the way he ran and conducted his future factories and business on an international scale.

He excelled at collecting and working with very good people.

His very able wife, too, played a big part in their legacy.

Far more interested in learning in the engineering workshops of his friends than his own academic education, or being a solicitor, he knew he could improve on the inefficient design of a water wheel he had seen while fishing in Yorkshire.

He set about developing his first turbine in Henry Watson’s home workshop. From this success he developed the first hydro-electric machine there – which sent out a 6ft spark from his finger! The rest is history!

He and his friends and business contacts built the Elswick Works to manufacture his hydraulic and then the moveable crane and the water pressure engine.

These dramatically hastened the development in heavy engineering and railways.

He set up the Elswick Literary and Mechanics Institute to train his, and many other, engineers.

But he was dubious about the academic style of Armstrong College, (the future Newcastle University), not being attached to practical work. He was a practical man.

The armament side of his inventiveness came during the Crimean War when he was asked to produce an electrically discharged underwater mine.

This was followed by improving guns, building ships to carry guns, shells and generally arming both sides of the many wars around the world.

His nickname was ‘the Merchant of Death’. His view was that it was politicians who started wars.

It is not possible to mention even a small sample of his life and many benefactions, his work and connections throughout the world. A truly remarkable man.

Tomorrow’s talk will cover his life at Cragside, The Armstrongs at Home, again by Andrew Sawyer who is a mine of information, and a great admirer of Lord and Lady Armstrong.

All are welcome to the talk at the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury, at 7.30pm. Visitors welcome, £2.