Visiting the forts of Chesters and Housesteads

Novocastrian Roman history is intertwined with Hadrian’s Wall, the small settlement and fort of Pons Aelius eventually became Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Wall finishes at the now aptly named Wallsend. This year’s final Exploring Classical and Historical Northumbria trip was to two of the major forts to the West of Newcastle, Chesters and Housesteads. We also walked part of the wall, because it also wouldn’t be a proper trip to Hadrian’s Wall otherwise. To reach Chesters and then Housesteads, we needed to travel from Central Station to Hexham, before catching the AD 122 bus (named after the founding date of the Wall) which stops at most of the major Hadrian’s Wall points of interest.

Chesters north gatehouse
Eastern Gate of Cilurvum

Cilurvum is the Roman name for Chesters fort which sat upon the bank of the River Tyne protecting one of the two bridges that allowed Hadrian’s Wall to cross the river. The fort was a cavalry fort holding around 500 auxiliary cavalrymen from Spain, as well as some men from the Rhineland and Dalmatia during a brief period between AD 138-180. Most of the stables are now covered in earth, due to the landscaping of Nathaniel Clayton in the `9th century but some have been excavated and can be seen alongside grazing horses. However, it is rather the extravagant bath house and commander’s quarters that make Cilurvum stand out. There is also a very well-preserved underground treasury room, the Northumbrian weather often means that this is inaccessible, but this was not the case when we visited making it possible to stand inside the domed underground room, a feat of Roman engineering. In Cilurvum there are small details that reveal something about the Roman life there. Although a bath house sits outside of the fort on the riverbank it appears that during the period of decline the Romans converted part of the commander’s house into a smaller one so they could bathe inside the protection of the walls in case of raiding parties.

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One of the rooms in the bath house

The history of Chesters is not limited to the scope of the Romans, as the Clayton family’s ownership of the land is equally as interesting. Nathaniel Clayton originally landscaped over the ruins but collected some Roman artefacts. It was his son however who is responsible for state of Chesters as we saw it. John Clayton performed his first excavation in 1843 and went on to also excavate Housesteads and Brocolitia. Although at Chesters his excavations unearthed thirty-three skeletons, his workmen out of respect reburied them but did not record where. Most of the artefacts however are in the Housesteads collection and many are in the onsite Clayton Museum, designed by R.N. Shaw (who designed much of the North East during the 19th century). The museum boasts painted glass, primitive ‘road spikes’ and parts of bronze statues, as well as many stone carvings from the cohorts stationed there. We stayed at Chesters fort for lunch, enjoying the English Heritage café before we got on the bus again to head up to Housesteads.

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The treasury room at Cilurvum

Vercovicium is the Roman name for Housesteads, arguably the most famous fort on Hadrian’s Wall. While Chesters occupies a reasonably flat plane of land, Housesteads is on top of a steep hill which while making it easy to defend makes it hard work just to walk up to it. When we reached the fort, we went around the small onsite museum. Some objects such as boot studs and inscriptions have survived; but one of the more beautiful items, a golden ring lost by the commander in the drainage system was not on display as the Housesteads collection is displayed across several museums. Moving from the museum to the fort there are remains of some of the houses from the vicus, the settlement outside of the fort. One such house has been dubbed the ‘murder house’ as under the floor two skeletons, stabbed to death, were found. This disregard for burial practice clearly shows something iffy went on. Crime was long a part of Housesteads as it became a base for the Armstrong clan, notorious border reivers, who reequipped the Southern gatehouse into a two storey bastle house to help survive raiding.

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Vercovicium barracks

Inside the fort there are several signs which show Vercovicium to be a major centre along the wall. The troops that manned the fort were mainly some 800 Tungrians, from Gaul. The scale of the fort is immense, not only does it have two incredibly large grain houses but there is also a significant sized hospital which is very rare in the Roman world. Most famously Vercovicium holds the best-preserved latrine in Roman Britain, showing how flowing water was utilised to remove sewage. It is surprising then that it is one of the few forts which was built without a source of running water. There is the Knag Burn nearby, but as we experienced the number of mosquitoes that chose to make this their home suggests Vercovicium wasn’t the most hospitable place on the Roman frontier.

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Four of us in front of Vercovicium

On past trips we have chosen to go Westwards towards the famous Sycamore Gap and the imaginatively named beers of the Twice Brewed Inn. On this occasion we decided to travel East to Sewingshields Crags as our day had been mainly spent in Chesters and Housesteads. This central section of the Wall is rather impractical as it traverses the top of many different crags, showing the Romans imperial strength rather than any necessary defence. When following the remaining wall this can still be seen, the steep crags are hard to walk up and must have been even harder to scale. The Northern Gate of Vercovicium also had to be closed as it was too steep for horses to approach. Our refreshing walk not only allowed us to look over the Northumbrian hinterland but also see some of the new lambs and calves. We returned in good time to catch the bus back to Hexham and have a cup of tea in one of the local pubs before returning to Newcastle.

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One of the young lambs on Sewingshields Crag
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Sudanalysis: A new blog on Sudan by Dr Willow Berridge

We introduce and republish here a new blog by Dr Willow Berridge. Dr Berridge is a historian of the 20th Century Islamic World at Newcastle University, with a particular interest in Sudanese history and the dynamics of Islamist ideology.

Revolutionary Dilemmas in Sudan

A few weeks ago, I taught an undergraduate seminar based on Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim’s excellent article ‘The 1971 Coup in Sudan and the Radical War of Liberal Democracy in Africa’.[i] The piece addresses the dilemmas that the Sudan Communist Party (SCP) – at that time the foremost voice of Sudan’s progressive urban elites – faced in the wake of the country’s first post-colonial uprising of 1964. In the years following the famous October Revolution, the party was torn between liberal democracy and radical socialism. The leadership under Abdel Khaliq Mahjub suffered a setback when religiously orientated parties with a strong regional base came to dominate the multiparty democratic system that existed between 1965 and 1969, and used their formal majority in parliament to label the communists as atheist and ban them. Yet Mahjub in particular feared that, given the narrow social base of the SCP within urban riverain Sudan, any effort to resort to revolutionary means to introduce a radical socialist order would be pre-emptive, and end up empowering ‘opportunists’ within the urban elite. When a faction of the SCP backed the military coup led by Jafa’ar Nimeiri in 1969, Mahjub was reluctant to get involved. He attempted to scale back the participation of his party in the new regime, and reached out to Sadiq al-Mahdi, whose Umma Party had opposed the communists on religious grounds in the parliamentary years. The Oxford-educated Sadiq had been attempting to reform his party along more progressive lines, and Mahjub presumably believed that he might act as a bridge between the urban revolutionaries and the rural masses.

In 1971 Mahjub was executed by Nimeiri, becoming a victim of the military vanguardism he had feared so much. The SCP suffered enormously after its leader’s death, and though it participated in the uprising of 2018-2019 along with the other parties it has never recovered the vigour of its golden era in the 1960s. Its radical mantle has been taken up by the Sudan Professional Association (SPA), a coalition of left-leaning union activists opposed to the Islamist regime of Umar al-Bashir that had dominated Sudan for 30 years. The SPA is modelled on a similar organization that played a leading role in the October Revolution of 1964, and which itself had ties to the SCP (among other parties). Yet it suffers from a similar problem to the SCP, in that it is at its strongest in the urban riverain centre. Its class composition is limited, by definition, to the professional elites of the major cities. If it is to avoid a narrow and opportunistic politics of revolution, therefore, it will need to work in partnership – just as Mahjub attempted to do – with political factions that have a strong presence outside the urban riverain centre.

But with who? Sadiq al-Mahdi has been a remarkable political survivor and still plays a prominent role in today’s opposition, but at the age of 84 has largely seen his reputation as an up and coming reformer discredited by his failures as prime minister between 1986-1989 and ambivalent opposition to the al-Bashir regime. However, the rise of a newer generation of leaders in his National Umma Party (to give it its new name) and within the other more religious oriented parties might create new possibilities. Another major political player is the Sudan Congress Party, which emerged out of the professional groups that led the second civilian uprising of 1985. It struggled to launch itself as a political party in the democracy that followed the 1985 Intifada, but re-emerged in 2005 and has been attempting to develop a base in Kordofan in particular. They SPA might also align itself with the rebel groups operating in the marginalized regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The urban leftists of the 1985 Intifada had hoped to form an alliance with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of John Garang – then operating mainly within the now seceded south – which itself espoused a Marxist ideology. However, their hopes were thwarted when Garang decided he did not trust the 1985 Transitional Military Council enough to come to Khartoum. Today one rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North faction headed by Malik Agar, has already sent an advance delegation to Khartoum. Meanwhile, one of the more prominent figures in the SPA, Muhammad Yousif Ahmad Mustafa, is himself a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North and has spoken of the parallels between the regime’s marginalization of cotton farmers in his own region of central riverain Sudan and its marginalization of the country’s other peripheries.

During the 2019 Intifada, the SPA has already established a formal alliance with most of these political forces via the Declaration of Freedom and Change. If the country is to avoid a return to the opportunistic politics of military intervention and domination by Khartoum elites, they will need to agree a common blueprint for both the transitional period and subsequent democracy.

[i] Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim, “The 1971 Coup in Sudan and the Radical War of Liberal Democracy in Africa”, Comparative Studies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East 16 (1996), 98-114.

Orginally published at:

Sudanalysis: Thoughts on Sudan by Dr Willow Berridge

 

Scholar Spotlight: Professor John Wight Duff

This instalment of Scholar Spotlight looks back to the early years of Newcastle University to tell the story of Professor John Wight Duff, a scholar often credited as cementing the place of the Arts, and Classics in particular, in the institution’s curriculum.

John Wight Duff joined the institution in 1893 when it was known as the Durham College of Physical Science, only 22 years after it was first established. As the name suggests, tuition was principally offered in subjects such as physics, mathematics, chemistry and geology in order to meet the needs of Newcastle’s growing mining industry. The founders of the College nonetheless thought that the teaching of Greek and Latin was an opportunity that should be afforded to every student “regardless of the institution’s name”.(1)​

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Left: a photograph of Professor Duff (1932) http://www.npg.org.uk. |  Right: see below for the Professor J.W. Duff diaries collection!

Initially, John took up a lectureship that covered both English and Classics, reflecting the comparatively small amount of Arts students at the College at the time. It was only a few years later however that the two subjects were assigned their own separate Chair positions, and he accordingly became Professor of Classics. This steady growth of the Arts following his arrival is indicative of the positive impact he would continue to have during the next 40 years he spent teaching at the College. Accordingly, as the study of Arts gained traction and the demand for the teaching of Greek and Roman history increased, he took on the title of Professor of Classics and Ancient History in 1901. Three years later the College of Physical Science was renamed Armstrong College in honour of local pioneering engineer and industrialist, Baron William George Armstrong. Even when Newcastle was a hotspot of scientific innovation, the efforts of Professor Duff continued to raise the profile of Classics and cement its place in the history of Newcastle University.

Prior to teaching in Newcastle, John pursued the study of classical philology at three separate universities in the U.K. and Europe, spending a year in Leipzig before earning a master’s degree from Oxford in 1886. He went on to receive a second master’s degree while working as an Assistant Professor of Greek at Aberdeen University from 1891 to 1893, the position he held immediately prior to joining the College of Physical Science. After embarking on his first professorship here at Newcastle, his academic profile continued to grow: over the next few decades he was awarded two honorary doctorates, one from the University of Durham and one from Aberdeen University.

 

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Portrait of Professor Duff, painted by Allan D. Mainds for Newcastle University (1934). http://www.artuk.org

John remained at the College until his retirement from full-time academia in 1934 (much like another subject of Scholar Spotlight, Professor G.B.A Fletcher – read here!). Nonetheless, he continued to involve himself with Classics and spent the following year at the University of California, Berkeley as the visiting Sather Professor. This tradition sought to support a distinguished classical scholar who would deliver a short lecture series on an area of special interest. John’s lectures, on Roman satire and social politics, were subsequently published in 1936 as one of his most respected works, Roman satire: Its outlook on social life with help from the Sather Fund. Before this, his most substantial academic contribution was a two-volume work on the subject of Roman literature, published in 1909 and 1910 and titled A LiteraryHistory of Rome​, which significantly advanced contemporary understanding of the subject.

Aside from teaching and publishing, John was also heavily involved in many societies for Classics and the humanities. He was an elected member of the Society for the Doctorate of Roman Studies from 1923 onwards and later joined the British Academy in 1931, as well as being an honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. This is a trend that continued for his entire life: at the time of his passing in 1944, he was President of Newcastle’s Society of Antiquaries, the oldest provincial antiquarian society in England that is still going strong today!

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An extract from the Professor J.W. Duff diaries (25-26th December, 1942). http://www.blogs.ncl.ac.uk/speccoll

As well as propelling the profile of Classics at Newcastle University to new heights, the legacy of Professor John Wight Duff survives in another way. Housed in the Robinson Library’s Special Collections are the personal diaries he kept during his time at Newcastle, covering the late 19th and early 20th century. Take a look at the picture above for an illustration of this fascinating insight into life in academia during World War II. This ample collection of diaries (15 boxes’ worth!) is a valuable historical resource in its own right, offering a fascinating insight into a period of social and political change in Britain and the effects it had on Newcastle University in its early years. The diaries are also accompanied by personal letters, family photographs, travel documents and maps, as well as newspaper clippings that make mention of his colleagues’ public lectures. This amazing collection can still be accessed today by staff, students and members of the public who are members of the Library. If you would like to find out more, please visit: www.ncl.ac.uk/library/special-collections/collections/collection_details.php?id=63.​

Keep an eye out on our blog for more posts about former scholars who are part of the history of Classics at Newcastle University!

Works Cited:

(1) Quote taken from a university-published report from 1974, celebrating the centenary of the teaching of Greek and Latin at Newcastle University in all its incarnations.

Newcastle to Naples: Newcastle University Classics Society’s Annual Trip.

Over the Easter break N.U.C.S. went to the bay of Naples for five days to explore the many Roman sites sitting in the shade of Mt. Vesuvius, including Pompeii and Herculaneum. While we originally planned to create a photo diary, and even though a picture may be worth a thousand words, the incredible sites deserve the use of both words and pictures.

A few of us at Herculaneum

Monday.

If Brexit had gone according to schedule then flying out on the 1st April may have been a confusing stressful ordeal. But luckily on arrival the only misadventure was by a few distracted Brits who had to be reminded that the UK was still in Europe and they had to use the left hand queue. To get to our hostel we travelled through Naples before getting the coastal train to Ercolano, where we were just 500 yds for Herculaneum. As it was our first day we wrote off the morning to sit in the sun on our hostel’s terrace. Then our afternoon was spent slightly further up the coast at Villa Oplontis, supposedly owned by Nero and used by his second wife Poppaea Sabina when she was not in Rome. Not only is the villa home to an impressive 60m long swimming pool, but the trees now planted in the gardens are species of trees known to have been there before it was enveloped in ash. The site itself is firmly nestled into the small town surrounding it and when we were there the fantastic fresco paintings made it feel like an undiscovered gem, that escaped the tourists that Pompeii is so infamous for.

Villa Oplontis
The view of Villa Oplontis from street level in Torre Annunciation
Villa Oplontis paintings
Some of the detailed surviving paintwork inside the Villa
Back Courtyard of Villa Oplontis

Tuesday.

It feels an appropriate time to introduce our host at Hostello Felice, a fantastic man called Claudio. He served us delicious Italian coffee alongside a platter of food from traditional Italian sweet bread to Salami and enormous local mozzarella. Our historical travels then took us down the road to Herculaneum. Entry for students is an incredible €2 for all archaeological sites is. Herculaneum looks smaller when you look down from street level but once you stand in the streets this changes. Walking down the first street there are amongst the houses bakeries and places where grain was distributed. In Herculaneum there is a central main villa with surviving frescoes and lewd statues of Hercules and there is also part of a temple complex. There was also an excavated chamber which held a modern art statue of snakes. Unfortunately, there were no English guides left and even though some of us attempted to learn Italian and a few knew Latin we could never figure out what it was. Even so the statue was an opportunity for some thoughtful photos. Herculaneum is well renowned for its preserved skeletons of those attempting to flee the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. While they are not easy for everyone to see they are preserved fantastically in the boat sheds underneath the main square which would have sat on the coast many centuries before. In the evening we travelled to Sorrento, getting pizza and ice-cream for dinner. Some were even brave enough to go for a swim while we were there.

Sorrento
The small beach at Sorrento
Mosaic from Herculaneum
Mosaic in Herculaneum
Mosaic from Bath-house
Mosaic on the Bath-House floor
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Orchard in Herculaneum

Wednesday.

We decided to make Pompeii the peak of our trip, and while other days had been sweltering the dip in weather was refreshing. The keen latinists among us were excited to experience the city of their hero Caecilius, from the aptly named ‘Caeciliad’ (Cambridge Latin Course book 1), and visit his villa to give a dramatic reading. Although the villa was unfortunately closed off they still insisted on giving their reading to members of the passing public. This was not the only thing to do in Pompeii, there is an itinerary which takes seven hours. Many people went to the Villa of the Mysteries on the outskirts of the city to see the cultic frescoes preserved there, and then passed by the Cave Canem mosaic on one of the many streets to the forum. On the other side of Pompeii stands an arena where Pink Floyd recorded their Live at Pompeii album. Most recently it was used by Cai Guo-Qiang for his explosion art inspired from the volcanic explosion and now displayed in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. Next door is a gymnasium that holds the burnt bread that many students remember from Dr. Stocks’ and Dr. Vergados’ Food for Thought module. There is so much more to say about Pompeii, but whole books and Academic papers have been devoted to it.

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Cane Canem Mosaic
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Reading the Caeciliad
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Pompeii’s amphitheatre
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Graffiti/Signs of Pompeii
The wheel tracks in Pompeii

Thursday.

A trip to Naples wouldn’t be a trip to Naples without a trip to Naples. This was our plan for the final full day. While there is plenty to do and see in Naples, for Classicists the Naples Archaeological Museum is the place to go. Most famously for Classicists it holds the Alexander Mosaic showing Alexander the Great and Darius III, but this is only a small part of what the museum has to offer. The Museum itself was built originally as a cavalry barracks in 1585, before becoming the seat of the University of Naples for over one-hundred years, then being converted into a museum under the Bourbon dynasty (An originally French Dynasty which held sway in 18th century Europe). It finally became the archaeological museum in 1957. The basement holds one of the largest Italian collections of Egyptian artefacts, including a mummy, as well as inscriptions from around Pompeii. The ground floor contains corridors of marble statutes and busts, most famously the Farnese Hercules. The first floor holds the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, along with a Bourbon style Gabbinete, which is where erotic art was displayed. The winged phalli seen in here are prevalent across Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as in the souvenir shops of Naples. The top floor is devoted to frescoes and glassware. What interested most people is the small circular fresco of the so-called Sappho, although its is more likely a Pompeian woman depicted doing accounting.

The Farnese Hercules

Alexander and Darius III mosaic

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‘Sappho’ fresco

Mosaic of a theatrical mask

Friday.

Most of the final day was travelling. Some people left the hostel at 5.30 am and some didn’t get home until 2.30 am the next day. While some people will want to forget the journey home, the trip was a rip-roaring success that no one will forget anytime soon. Although not everyone’s interest was in Roman history there was something for everyone. This year’s trip was organised by 3rd year student Katy Murray and we look forward to what next years committee has to offer.

 

Holiness on the Move: Travelling Saints in Byzantium – a highlights video of the workshop

This video presents highlights from the international workshop “Holiness on the Move: Travelling Saints in Byzantium” organised by Dr Mihail Mitrea in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle University on February 22, 2019. This workshop brought together researchers in the field of Byzantine literature, and especially hagiography, in order to explore travel and monastic mobility in Byzantium in connection to Byzantine ideals of sainthood, as reflected in hagiographic compositions. The event was organised in the framework of the MSCA-funded research project “Sacred Landscapes in Late Byzantium” (agreement no. 752292). For more details, please visit https://research.ncl.ac.uk/travelling…

Holiness on the MoveAbraham_Journey to Canaan_jpeg

Ἀρχή and Origo, the Power of Origins: a Newcastle University conference

On the 2-4 May 2019, a very exciting event is taking place in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. Our very own Dr. Walter (Lecturer in Classics) and Dr. Vergados (Reader in Greek, Postgraduate Research Director) have collaborated to host a conference called ‘Ἀρχή and Origo, the Power of Origins’. The three-day event stems from their shared research interest in origins and its power as a form of discourse, with both scholars set to publish on the subject with Oxford University Press in the near future.

The range of papers is impressively broad and reflects the diverse interests and specialisms of the speakers the conference will host. While some focus on the nature of origins in a single text, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, others tackle an entire genre, such as Greek and Jewish historiography. Topics also range beyond antiquity all the way to the medieval and early modern periods, and focus on different media, so alongside classicists and ancient historians there will be art historians and early modern historians on the panels! Another stroke of diversity is that the speakers extend from experts long-established in their field to early career researchers and PhD students.

With such a diverse mix of guests and topics, the conference has involved a huge amount of planning, and preparations began in early 2018. Since then Dr. Walter and Dr. Vergados have secured funding from the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (the Humboldt-Kolleg programme). The Humboldt-Kolleg programme is an initiative that encourages collaboration and discussion between its alumni (such as our conference organisers!) and with scholars from all over the world. With the emphasis on creating a dialogue between attendees, the conference has been structured so that each paper, circulated in advance, starts with a 10-minute summary by the speaker and is followed by 40 minutes of discussion. It looks to be a very productive and fruitful few days, and it is hoped that the conference will lead to the publication of a wide-ranging but cohesive volume on the subject of origins.

Arche poster 1.2

The conference will take place in Armstrong Reception Rooms (G.69), Newcastle University and all from the School and beyond are warmly invited to attend. The full programme can be found here. Papers can be pre-circulated on an individual basis, so please contact either Dr. Walter (anke.walter@ncl.ac.uk) or Dr. Vergados (athanassios.vergados@ncl.ac.uk) to arrange this. In the meantime, look out for the conference poster around the Armstrong building very soon, and we look forward to seeing you in May!

Keep an eye out on our blog as we will continue to post about the exciting events our staff are involved in this year!

Visiting Cragside Estate

Although talking about the weather may be a bit of a British cliché, when talking about this term’s ‘Exploring Northumbria’ trips it would be amiss not to. Especially in the case of our trip to the Armstrong family’s Cragside Estate. We had the opportunity to explore some of the wider sixteen-thousand-acre estate, the magnificent house and enjoy our lunch basking in the sun.

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Cragside House as seen when approaching from the powerhouse

Our journey began in Newcastle, we took the bus along the rather bumpy roads towards Rothbury, the small village on the outskirts of the Armstrong family estate. This village had been where William Armstrong (later 1st Baron Armstrong) had holidayed as a child. To get to the estate we walked a short distance along the bank of the River Coquet before reaching one of the two powerhouses which helped power Armstrong’s electrical creations. These powerhouses used a system of water pressure to generate power, which was then held in dynamos. This, when created in 1870, was the world’s first Hydro-Electric Power Plant. While the science behind how this generated power was explained it is still too complex for my ability, however the National Trust did supply some helpful interactive water models. Outside of this there is a large waterwheel, supposedly this was what spurred the young Armstrong back into scientific study after a short career in law. When seeing how inefficient waterwheels were, he took it upon himself to improve them.

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The glen outside the front of the house

The path we took to the house was through a picturesque forest and rock garden. The forest itself was artificially planted by the Armstrongs and covers most of the estate which is not agricultural land. These towering trees hide the house from view in order to make the initial impact of seeing the grandeur even greater. Once you leave the treeline you can see the house but then to reach it one must traverse the rock garden created by Lady Armstrong – the largest in Europe when it was created. The house itself would look at home nestled in amongst the French Alps.

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The two later extensions to Cragside House

We chose to get lunch before we tackled the enormity of the house which gave us a chance to see one of the five artificially created lakes. The enormity of the whole estate cannot be expressed nor even witnessed. An example of this is the amount of power that it consumes. The average modern house consumes around 4,000 kWh per year and Cragside was consuming over 120,000 kWh per year. The modern way of meeting this demand can be seen in the reverse Archimedes Screw which is placed beside the main lake. (Possibly) developed in Syracuse between 287-212 BC to move water upwards, the modern equivalent uses the downward force of water to generate energy.  Past the shore of the lake lies a small glen which is connected to the house by a Grade II listed iron bridge which resembles that built across Jesmond Dene. The first house of Lord and Lady Armstrong was in Jesmond Dene and the story goes that Lady Armstrong was distressed by her horses having to keep climbing the steep sides of the dene so asked her husband and his industrial contacts to build the bridge which still stands today and is home to the weekly food market.

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Tumbleton Lake

Cragside House went through several phases of expansion, these were meant to accommodate Armstrong’s growing contacts as his business grew in international stature. The phases were designed by the architect Norman Shaw, who had helped expand his original Jesmond home. The expense of the house is instantaneously evident when walking into the dining room. One of Robert Jupe’s early expanding circular table which could seat twelve stands in the centre and seasonal stained-glass windows created by members of the Arts and Crafts movement decorate the fireplace. Similar stained-glasses can also be found in the rather modest library depicting Homer, Aeschylus, Virgil and Horace.

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The library with miniature stained-glass

Within the house itself there are many uses of the hydroelectric and hydraulic technology developed by Armstrong. Below the main part of the house lies a Turkish bath, with steam room and shower, all powered and heated by the hydroelectrics of the estate. In the kitchen there is a hydro-piston system that moves the dumbwaiter to help carry fuel to all the floors for the humongous number of fireplaces. There are also lightbulbs around the house, the grand total is above forty. These were incandescent lightbulbs developed by Joseph Sawn. Although there was a bitter copyright battle between Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan about lightbulbs, they eventually started a company together helping supply power to Newcastle along with William Armstrong. Although traditionally Edison is seen as the original inventor of the lightbulb, it is now thought that the ones found at Cragside predate his.

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Lord Armstrong’s Turkish Bath

It would be wrong to say that the house was only filled with technology as the Armstrong family became avid art collectors. The upper floor had been converted in part to something reminiscent of a gallery. This led onto the main sitting room which is dominated by the fireplace. Around the hearth is easily the size of a student bedroom and the whole marble fireplace is thought to weigh over ten tons! In the sitting room sits a painting of Bamburgh Castle: this was bought by the Armstrong family in the hope to turn it into a women’s shelter. In a strange twist of fate there is a painting by William Turner, originally owned by the Armstrong family then sold with the estate before the National Trust took over. This then was found years later in another National Trust property before being returned to Cragside. Due to Armstrong’s prestige and what he did for the city he was awarded a small chest supposedly made from the timbers of the Roman bridge which crossed the Tyne in Pons Aelius.

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The fireplace inside the sitting room

As we departed, we travelled past the greenhouses, which have turning pots to allow an equal amount of sun to reach all the plants. They again were powered by hydro technology developed by Armstrong. On walking into Rothbury you can see the cottages that workers on the estate stayed in now used for village residents. It is not only at Cragside that the influence of William Armstrong can be felt, his creation of Armstrong College later became Newcastle University.