Revisiting the past20 October 2003
IWP&DC takes a look at the story behind one of the first houses in the world to have its own power supply
GILBERT GILKES and Gordon, based in Kendal, Cumbria has recently re-visited the site where one of its turbines was installed to provide hydro power to drive a Crompton dynamo producing electricity for a private house. The site is located at the famous Cragside House, situated on the rugged hillside above Rothbury, Northumberland.
Now owned by the National Trust, Cragside House, was the first house in the world to have its own power supply. The house belonged to the 1st Lord Sir William Armstrong and was used as a weekend retreat.
One of the most modern and surprising houses of its time in the county, Cragside was described as, ?the place of a Modern Magician?. In the 1880?s the house had hot and cold running water, central heating, fire alarms, telephones, a Turkish bath suite and a passenger lift, but most remarkable of all was the fact it was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.
The Victorian building was designed by R. Norman Shaw for the Lord Armstrong. The house had a system of manmade lakes and underground piping that was developed by Armstrong to heat and power the house. The power circuit, a 1.6km walk alongside Debden Burn, includes the Ram and power houses in which hydraulic and hydroelectric machinery is displayed.
The turbine used was manufactured by Gilkes and used the design of an inward flow Vortex turbine. This had to be replaced in the 1970s and, as this type of turbine was no longer being manufactured, Gilkes replaced it with a new Pelton model.
The turbine was originally manufactured under the name of the Williamson Bros, who were the original founders of Gilkes in 1853. Gilbert Gilkes bought the company in 1881, changing the name to Gilbert Gilkes & Co, which then later became Gilbert Gilkes and Gordon when the company bought James Gordon & Co.
Sir William Armstrong was a legend in innovation not only for the design and imagination put into the house at Cragside but also for the massive restoration task undertaken at Bamburgh Castle where he later moved to, and which is still in the ownership of the Armstrong family today.