Water power returns to Cragside, more than a century on

The first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity is once again to be powered by water, 150 years after it was built by pioneering engineer Lord William Armstrong.

The National Trust is installing a modern hydro system that will produce enough energy to light Cragside.

Built in 1863, Cragside was first powered by hydroelectricity in 1878 when Lord Armstrong used water from the estate’s lakes to generate electricity through a turbine.

The reinstatement of hydroelectricity is just one of the major works taking place at the attraction to mark its 150th year, dubbed Building Dreams.

Andrew Sawyer, conservation and interpretation officer at Cragside, said: “Lord Armstrong was an exceptional man with a genius mind and the prospect of bringing his vision for Cragside into the 21st century is a dream come true.”

“Hydroelectricity is the world’s most widely used form of renewable energy, so we are looking forward to sharing this very special part of its heritage.

“In the year of Building Dreams at Cragside, as well as powering the house by hydroelectricity once more, later in the year we plan to open a new exhibition in the house which tells how the Armstrongs ensured their dreams had a legacy and in June we’ll have three major art installations on the estate, all inspired by Lord Armstrong’s achievements.”

The Archimedean screw hydroelectric turbine will be installed in spring. It will be placed at the southern end of Tumbleton Lake, the lowest of the five lakes on the Cragside estate, at an angle that allows water to pass between the lake and the burn below.

As water passes through the spiral blades it causes the screw to turn, harnessing the energy of the falling water.

This is then converted into electricity using a generator. The technology is well proven with more than 100 installations in Europe.

Andrew added: “The Archimedian screw is technology that is easy to install and maintain due to the simple mechanics and, because it works at low speed, it’s possible for fish to pass through the turbine unharmed.

“The best thing about the screw is that it’s visible and we hope this will add to people’s understanding of why Cragside is so special. Visitors will be able to view the technology from the lakeside.”

The National Trust hopes that in the longer term it will be able to transform the boat house on Tumbleton Lake into an area where visitors can read about hydroelectric power at Cragside, as well as creating a viewing platform.

An exhibition and major art installations are also being planned for this year.

The exhibition, Captured on Camera, will show for the first time images from a personal photograph album of Lord Armstrong’s great nephew and his family, who took over as owners of Cragside when Lord Armstrong died.

The exhibition gives a rare insight into the family life of the Armstrongs and helps to explain how the childless first Lord Armstrong ensured his dreams had a legacy.

In June, a number of temporary major artworks, giving a modern interpretation of the pioneering vision of Lord and Lady Armstrong, will be installed at various locations on the estate as part of the Festival of the North East.

Andrew said: “I have worked at Cragside for many years now and have always been fascinated by Lord and Lady Armstrong’s pioneering dreams for Cragside. When they came to Cragside it was nothing but a barren hillside. They set about building their dream, creating a magnificent home that was years ahead of its time set within a fantasy landscape where Northumberland meets North America and the Himalayas to stunning effect.”

Cragside re-opens for the season this weekend. It is also featured on Sunday’s Countryfile on BBC1 at 7pm.