William Armstrong’s many inventions and innovations bought global fame to the banks of the River Tyne and he had one of the most extraordinary careers of the Victorian Age. 25,000 people were employed at his Elswick Works in the manufacture of hydraulic cranes, ships, bridges and armaments.
He designed both the Newcastle Swing Bridge, with an innovative hydraulic system to swing open and close, enabling ships to sail further up river and the hydraulic mechanism that operates Tower Bridge in London. He created Cragside, his residence near Rothbury, Northumberland, which was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.
He made a vital contribution to the understanding of renewable energy, especially his experiments with hydroelectricity and harnessing the power of the sun.
Armstrong became one of Britain’s largest industrialists and one of the richest people in Europe, enabling his significant philanthropy. He was involved in the foundation of the College of Physical Science in 1871, which was a forerunner of Newcastle University. He also donated Jesmond Dene and Armstrong Park to the people of Newcastle and helped pay for the building of the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Hancock Museum (now Great North Museum) in Newcastle. In 1887 he was made Baron Armstrong of Cragside, the first engineer and the first scientist to receive a peerage.