Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Context and Cragside

A constant challenge for house museum interpretation is contextualising the building and its contents. We all know how stories bring places alive, and the reality is that some house museums have more going for them in this space than others.

Cragside near Morpeth in Northumberland is one such house, and a recent visit confirmed what a sterling job the National Trust are doing with it. And what a story it has to tell. The owner, Sir William, later 1st Lord, Armstrong (1810 - 1900) was one of those great Victorian industrialists and engineers who brought Britain to world pre-eminence by the end of the 19th century. Famous for an ability to so immerse himself in solving a problem that his colleagues would wonder if he was still alive (note to self: must remember to try this in boring meetings), he would emerge from his trance with another mechanical solution.

Generally this was applied, as far as I could see, to building battleships for the Japanese at his shipyard in Newcastle. But with the fortune this provided him with, he set to in a remote part of Northumberland to build Cragside with the architect Richard Norman Shaw.