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

This year the National Trust will install a modern hydro system that will produce enough energy to light the house, and enable the conservation charity to re-tell the story for which Cragside is famous. Cragside house, built in 1863, was first powered by hydroelectricity in 1878 when Lord Armstrong used water from the lakes on his estate to generate electricity through a turbine.

In a year they’re calling ‘Building Dreams’, the reinstatement of Hydroelectricity is just one of the major pieces of work taking place at the National Trust attraction to mark the 150th year of Cragside.

Andrew Sawyer, Conservation and Interpretation Officer at Cragside told us:

“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 Armstrong’s 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 National Trust will be starting work to install an Archimedean screw hydroelectric turbine in this spring. The turbine 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, thereby harnessing the energy of falling water. The energy is then converted into electricity using a generator. The technology is well proven with over 100 installations in Europe and was chosen by the National Trust for its many advantageous features. Andrew explains:

“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 lake side.”

The National Trust hopes that in the longer term they 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.

Also taking place at Cragside in 2013 is an exhibition and major art installations which make the National Trust estate a ‘must see’ attraction this year in the North of England. The exhibition opening later in the year ‘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 Armstrong’s and helps to explain how the childless first Lord Armstrong ensured his dreams had a legacy.

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

Andrew concluded:

“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. A century and a half later, visitors can step into their dream to discover the wonders of this amazing place and the people who created it.”

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