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Slave Girl

December 18, 2014

In the middle of the 2014 season we loaned out a bronze sculpture by John Bell which we know as the Slave Girl. She was loaned to the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut for an exhibition titled Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901.

Martina Droth, Curator of Sculpture for the YCBA said “One of the reasons we were so eager to borrow this work is because we wanted to juxtapose it with a related statue, the Greek Slave by Hiram Powers – this is an extremely famous American work which was shown at the Great Exhibition 1851. John Bell’s statue appears to have been made as a direct response to the Greek Slave, commenting directly on the American slave trade, a subject that Hiram Powers evokes but does not explicitly address.”

While Hiram Powers’ statue is very familiar in America, John Bell’s Slave Girl (or American Slave as is apparently her official title) is virtually unknown and forces the exhibition’s audience to reconsider the Greek Slave.

The sculpture has now completed her time at YCBA but will travel with the exhibition to the Tate Britain in London, before finally returning to Cragside mid-2015.

Slave Girl at YCBA

Slave Girl at YCBA


LUX – art at Cragside for 2014

May 26, 2014

LUX – an art exhibition for 2014 at Cragside, begins on Tuesday 6th June. There will be a number of pieces across the estate and in the House which have a theme of light and innovation to fit with out property theme this year, Bright Ideas.

Dan Fox, one of the artists whose work will be displayed in the House as part of LUX has made a video to show the work in progress, which I thought would be nice to share as a preview of the exhibition.


Easter Holidays

April 14, 2014

It’s the Easter school holidays here in Northumberland, so the House is open from 11am-5pm every day until Tuesday 22nd April.


We have several activities for children planned, including the Science Quest (available from the gift shop, £1), the Bright Ideas house quiz (available from House reception, 50p) and the Easter Egg trail (available Good Friday-Easter Monday from the Visitor Centre between 10am & 3pm, £3) with a Cadbury’s chocolate egghead on completion.

Volunteer Recruitment Evening

April 4, 2014

As the new season has just begun it seems a good time to talk about the various volunteering opportunities Cragside offers.

We rely on an army of around 200 volunteers to keep Cragside going. They help us in a myriad of ways but by far the most volunteer are needed to open the House. We need between 8 & 10 volunteers every day (and on weekends we need two lots of 10!)

We have a volunteer Recruitment Evening planned for Thursday 24th April. It starts at 6.30pm and will continue until 8pm at the Visitor Centre, on a drop in basis.

We will be recruiting for all departments, so if you or anyone you know may be interested in volunteering at Cragside the evening will give you a fantastic chance to see what opportunities we have on offer. Please join us!

Each department will have a stand displaying the available roles and there will be members of staff there to talk through the opportunities with anyone who’d like more information.

Complicated Family Tree

March 25, 2014


The first Lord Armstrong married Margaret Ramshaw (both above), the daughter of a Bishop Auckland engineer, in 1835. They had no children of their own so in the 1890s Armstrong had something of a conundrum when deciding who would inherit his estate.

Anne Armstrong

Anne Armstrong

Armstrong’s sister Anne died in her twenties, but before then had produced a son – John William Watson. In the 1890s Watson was elderly, already had Adderstone Hall near Belford in North Northumberland and was comfortably off. He had no interest in taking on Armstrong’s estate at his time of life. Instead he suggested it go to his son, William Henry Fitzpatrick Watson.

John William Watson

John William Watson

Armstrong decided that’s just what he’d do, and so the chosen heir came to Cragside along with his young family to live and learn the ropes of running the estate and businesses. There was one small proviso though, if he was to inherit the fortune, he also had to take on the name – he became Watson-Armstrong.

the 'second' Lord

the ‘second’ Lord

As he wasn’t a direct descendent of the first Lord Armstrong, the one thing he could not inherit was the title. However he was himself ennobled in 1903 as the 1st Baron Armstrong of Bamburgh and Cragside. We often refer to Watson-Armstrong as “the second Lord”, which is not strictly true. He is in fact the first Lord of the second creation (creation of the title). This is the real reason that people can find the family tree complicated. That and the fact they were all called William!

Of course then you have the fact that Watson-Armstrong had three wives (…not all at once!) But that does add some further confusion for visitors when they try to get their heads around it.

Watson-Armstrong married his first wife Winifreda in 1889. They had two children together, William and Winifred (or Winny as we know her). Winny died at just 17 years old and Winifreda died less than two years later in 1914 of a chest complaint. They had been married for 25 years.

With his first wife Winifreda and their children on the left, with second wife Beatrice top right and with theird wife Kathleen bottom right.

With his first wife Winifreda and their children on the left, with second wife Beatrice top right and with third wife Kathleen bottom right.

His second wife was Beatrice Cowx, whom he married in 1916. She had been his children’s governess (a sort of nanny and teacher in one). She died in 1934 having been married to him for 18 years. He then married his secretary, Kathleen England in 1935, however he died in 1941 ending their 6 year marriage. Kathleen went on to marry the owner of a Newcastle furniture store.

Historic Photographs

March 18, 2014

As we’ve just opened for the season things at Cragside House have quieted down somewhat. The very early and late parts of the season generally get low visitor numbers and the conservation cleaning is finished. We get a little more breathing space, a chance to settle back into the routine of being open to visitors. Unfortunately being a little quieter also means there is a distinct lack of things to blog about. I thought maybe I’d share some images which I found hidden in the depths of our shared computer drive, some of which I haven’t even seen myself before.

The first of the ones I particularly want to draw attention to is this image taken in the Kitchen. It features Winifreda, Lady Watson-Armstrong (second from left) and her two children, Winny (fourth from right) and Will (first on left) in among a number of servants. I particularly enjoy the look on Winny’s face as she inspects the knife she’s holding. Definitely worth zooming in on!

Kitchen and staff

c.1906 judging by the age of Winny & Will

The second photo I wanted to show you was taken on the forecourt of the House, about the same date as the above photo in the Kitchen, features Winny with one of her horses being watched by her parents and some others in the porch. I just like it because it’s nice to see quite informal photos like that and to see the House being part of their family life.

House forecourt

Below is a gallery of the other images, click on each one for a larger version.


The carpet has left the building…

March 5, 2014

On Thursday afternoon the carpet was finally rolled, after a bit of a pipe related debacle. The pipe was used to roll the carpet on, to keep it stable during transport. We originally ordered a pipe which turned out to be too large, so an emergency order for a smaller diameter of pipe went in, due for delivery on Wednesday. Predictably it didn’t arrive so a member of the regional building team, Phil, was dispatched to a builders merchant in Gateshead who had what we needed in stock.

Once the pipe had arrived Ksynia, the carpet conservator, her assistant Amy and two members of our team, Katherine and Felicity, spent the afternoon cleaning the reverse side of the carpet, layering acid free tissue paper and wadding into it and rolling it tightly. Then the rest of the House team and some of the Ranger team was enlisted to help with rolling the last 3 metres, wrapping it in its outer coating of Tyvek (a breathable but waterproof and rip-proof fabric) and bubble wrap. We then used lifting straps to carry it down the corridor to the main entrance ready for collection on Friday morning.

On Friday the transport company arrived just after 9am and we wheeled the carpet on scaffold trolleys to the van. Little did we know that was the easy bit, the hard work of getting the House ready for visitors the following day was extremely stressful!

Once the carpet and underlay was up, we found a couple of areas of the floor which needed attention. The first being a loose floorboard, which the building team sorted out. The second was a pair of Victorian sockets hidden under a floorboard below where the round Capstan dining table was positioned. Ksynia took measurements and will check the carpet to see whether there were holes or a patch in the carpet to allow access to them.

The most time-consuming task was traffic waxing the Dining Room floor. Traffic wax is a protective coating for high traffic areas, which obviously the Dining Room has never had before because it had carpet. Before the wax could go on the floor had to be washed and then left to dry completely. After the wax went on, it then had to be buffed before we could even begin to move the furniture back in.

I won’t go into all the other small jobs that added to the pressure, but there were many! We couldn’t have gotten it all done without the help from Dick and Phil of the regional building team and our regional conservator, John.

Below is a gallery of images from Friday, to show the transformation: