Imagine visiting a home that was off the grid, using hydroelectric power to run lights, a dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner, and a washing machine. There’s a system for watering the plants and an intercom between rooms. Not really a big deal, right? This is the twenty first century, after all.

Armstrong with a 7 inch gun of his design
Image of Armstrong and his 7-inch gun from an 1887 edition of Illustrated London News

But then imagine you’ve exited your time machine to find this house not in the present day, but in the year 1870. Suddenly things become quite a bit more impressive, and it is all thanks to a British electrical hacker named William Armstrong who built a house known as Cragside. Even if you’ve never been to Northumberland, Cragside might look familiar. It’s appeared in several TV shows, but — perhaps most notably — played the part of Lockwood Manor in the movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Armstrong was a lawyer by training but dabbled in science including hydraulics and electricity — a hot topic in the early 1800s. He finally abandoned his law practice to form W. G. Armstrong and Company, known for producing Armstrong guns, which were breech-loading artillery pieces ranging from 2.5 inch bores up to 7 inches. By 1859, he was knighted and became the principal supplier of armaments to both the Army and the Navy.

A Vacation Destination

By 1862, Armstrong was sorely in need of a vacation. He had spent time in Northumberland as a child, specifically in the town of Rothbury, so he returned there to relax.

The house started as a simple hunting lodge. Source: National Trust

He enjoyed it so much that he decided to buy land and build a modest house in the area. The original house was really just a hunting lodge and didn’t offer much in the way of luxuries, but Armstrong equipped it with furnishings suitable for a much finer house. Becoming even more enamored with the area over time, Armstrong decided to expand the house in 1869. An architect named Shaw quickly drew up the plans, but the execution would take over 20 years to complete.

Apparently, Armstrong was a difficult client for an architect. He was prone to changing plans on the fly and, because of this, the end result is a house that could perhaps best be described as disjointed.

Powering Up

Hydroelectric plant at Cragside
Part of the hydroelectric system at Cragside uses an Archimedes screw (source: National Trust)

Armstrong had a laboratory built where he would experiment with electric current. The room is now a billiard room and has been…

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