An Early Environmentalist

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The first house in Britain to be successfully lit by electricity was not in London, or one of the new manufacturing towns of Northern England, but near the village of Rothbury, some 35 miles North of the Tyne, in what might be called the wilds of Northumberland. The site had been bought on which to build a country home for himself and his family by Sir William G Armstrong, one of the most inventive and far-seeing engineers and manufacturers of the Victorian era. This is a breed which does not receive much praise; often portrayed as a grasping, insensitive group which had no respect for either the environment or the people they employed in their 'dark, Satanic mills".

However, in a book describing the house and its domestic equipment, I found the following passage, "In a long and varied career, Armstrong's main interests emerge as the production, use and conservation of energy". His life spanned almost the whole of the 19th century, from 1810 to 1900, and his factories just West of Newcastle were well enough known to be mentioned in the Geordie National Song, "Blaydon Races", with which I became familiar myself during my years of apprenticeship in a marine engineering works. William built warships for Britain and foreign navies, hydraulic machinery for docks and bridges and even bicycles at his Elswick works.

In the 1860s he was elected President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and delivered a lecture on the need to find an alternative to coal as a source of energy, long before the environment became a subject for public discussion. He proposed the use of hydro-electric power and in 1878 he made use of a nearby stream, a water turbine and a dynamo to light the rooms in his house with the recently developed Swan electric bulbs.

In our present age, demand for electricity has far outstripped the available water power in Britain, and other sources, such as tidal power must be employed, but we should nevertheless, pay tribute to this much neglected genius for pointing out the fallacy of relying on non-renewable sources of energy, like coal or our all-electric homes.
Bob Weighton.

Bob Weighton would like to say "Thank You" to everyone who sent a gift, card or good wishes on the occasion of his recent 109th birthday.

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