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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From The Tyne to The Peerage
I serendipitously discovered Cragside, Sir William's house, via the Open University back in the 1980s.

In the late 1980s, OU programmes used to play on BBC2 in a two hour block during Saturday mornings. Having accidentally discovered that some of these programmes could be really interesting, even to a casual viewer, I took to recording them each week so that I...
Published on 10 Feb 2011 by AlanMusicMan

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great that it exists at all - but sadly otherwise less good
As other reviewers have said, Armstrong's key part in Victorian England is ludicrously neglected.
So a huge thanks to Henrietta Heald for the research and writing of it.

Unfortunately if it was a biography amongst many of someone more famous, it would not rate so very highly.

The best bits are: a) All the detail about the people who surrounded...
Published on 16 Mar 2012 by Mr. Brian R. Dougal


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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From The Tyne to The Peerage, 10 Feb 2011
By 
AlanMusicMan (North Cornwall) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
I serendipitously discovered Cragside, Sir William's house, via the Open University back in the 1980s.

In the late 1980s, OU programmes used to play on BBC2 in a two hour block during Saturday mornings. Having accidentally discovered that some of these programmes could be really interesting, even to a casual viewer, I took to recording them each week so that I might have something interesting to watch when I got home from work in the week (yes, prime-time TV was pretty patchy then, too!).

One of the series I hoovered up in this way were the programmes that went with a course called "Arts Foundation (A102)" - all about the appreciation of art & architecture. One of the episodes I captured (and I still have it, transferred to DVD in all its VHS wobbliness!) was about the contents, the creation and the background of William Armstrong's magnificent creation on the Northumberland moorland, Cragside. Fascinated by this isolated, yet highly advanced and quirky house, I watched it over and over again.

It wasn't long before I dragged the family up north on a visit to see Cragside (a National Trust property for several decades now) for real. Ever since then, we have visited periodically: Visits which refresh the soul and reaffirm the belief that man can shape nature in a sympathetic and mutually beneficial way. It's easy to see why Armstrong was able to entertain royalty of all nations at the estate - it was and is, a wonder of the world.

Being a massive fan of Cragside of course leads one to a certain curiosity about its creator. - but I was frustrated that (even in the Cragside gift shop) there was only one very slim volume summarising William Armstrong's life and achievements. I knew from comments made by Colin Cunningham - the historian and Victorian architecture specialist, presenter of the "Arts Foundation" video series - that there must be a great deal more to tell. I vaguely wondered about doing some further research, but never did.

Then came news of this book, which I purchased as soon as possible. I was not disappointed!

Henrietta Heald has done a terrific job of putting together a cohesive and compelling narrative of William Armstrong's life and times. One shares her obvious respect for his ability to continually innovate new solutions. She shows how he used his engineering momentum to gain ever greater success and move into ever higher circles of society - whilst still remaining firmly rooted in reality and the sources of his success. His almost lifelong philanthropy and belief in education as a way of drawing all levels of society upwards is something that was somewhat ahead of its time, and even when (as he saw it) the working men turned on him by striking for fewer hours and better conditions, he still felt able to continue with his philanthropic works - albeit I think at a slightly more muted level.

His prescience in looking ahead in detail to a post-coal era was, again, very much ahead of the herd and was doubtless informed by his fascination with electricity. Although his wealth was established through innovating solutions based on hydraulic power, he also dabbled with other new forms of energy and power, famously electric lighting Cragside using hydro power from lakes he had created in the high ground around the house. Tellingly, as an old man, he said that if he had his time over again he would have placed a greater concentration on developing electric powered machines.

William seems to have had only a passing interest in politics, although he did serve as a government official for armaments for a time, and did once stand (unsuccessfully) for parliament. However, he seems to have had a distaste for achieving success via political means, always preferring to play to his strengths by out-engineering or out-competing his rivals and confounding his critics by making new or unlikely things work, and work well. He was, in this sense, a very modern man. He was, perhaps, one of the first to show that by being a prince of engineering and innovation it was possible to circumvent the norms of the British class system. It's a notion that we have all grown up with now, but then it was quite a new one.

Our modern world of instant news and ultra-realistic movie storytelling gives us intimate and horrific knowledge of what armaments can do to those on whom they are used. This naturally heightens our distaste for those who deal in arms and weapons. William Armstrong's wealth was, in large part, derived from being what the author calls 'the first international arms dealer'. Undoubtedly this makes us look at his wealth and his chosen field for the application of his talents as somewhat blood-tainted - and it's right that we should do so. One can't help but wonder what he would have made possible if he had totally applied his gifts in other directions. However, in mitigation we should bear in mind that a significant minority of his work was indeed applied to peaceful purposes, also, from what we read in this book, Armstrong himself doesn't seem to have been particularly warmongering or aggressive in either his views or his personality.

Sir William and his wife Margaret (Meggie) were never able to have any children: History seems not to record the reason - and why should it? Although their childless state seems to have been a great sadness to them both, one doesn't get the sense from Henrietta's book that this was a debilitating sadness, they simply seem to have lavished all the more affection on their several homes, and on children in their extended families: Indeed, quite a lot of the inheritance left by the Armstrongs went to their favourites among those children.

In all, the book gives a wonderful picture of Sir William's life and - so far as is possible from this distance of time - his personality. There are pictures in the book, some old photos and portraits - as well as the places that the Armstrongs created or enhanced (though not enough, for me, of Cragside!). The book is very readable and as one of the quoted reviews says, it brings Sir William back to life for us. I say it's a crime that he was ever forgotten.

A well researched, well written, well thought out and highly recommended book.

Alan T

See Also:

Emperor of Industry: Lord Armstrong of Cragside
W.G. Armstrong: The Life and Times of Sir William George Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Cragside
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable man, 2 Dec 2010
By 
N. Collin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is a well researched and very readable account of a remarkable man who was a pivotal figure in the industrial revolution. Given Armstrong's contributions to fields as diverse as hydraulics, shipbuilding, locomotives, guns, architecture and electric light it is extraordinary that he is not more well known. Fascinating!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great that it exists at all - but sadly otherwise less good, 16 Mar 2012
By 
Mr. Brian R. Dougal (Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
As other reviewers have said, Armstrong's key part in Victorian England is ludicrously neglected.
So a huge thanks to Henrietta Heald for the research and writing of it.

Unfortunately if it was a biography amongst many of someone more famous, it would not rate so very highly.

The best bits are: a) All the detail about the people who surrounded Armstrong's life. b) A good feel for the man is obtained. c) How often he met so many of the other contemporary "greats" not just of engineering, but also of pure science.
The poor parts are: a) The writing style, very much a first book. Chronology gets very confusing at times.
b) The variable but mostly extremely sparse details of the engineering.

This lack of information about his achievements is a great shame for anyone not otherwise aware of these things. If (perfectly reasonably) Henrietta Heald does not know/understand such details, I am sure there would have been several members of Durham or Newcastle University science or engineering depts who would have written a page or two descriptions of the technology involved, perhaps as appendixes ?. The book as a whole would be the better for it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Armstrong, 2 Dec 2010
Draws you into the world of engineering, politics and arms sales of the time

A must for any researcher but also a very good read to understand the drivers and pitfalls for self made captains of industry during this period of fast expansion of engineering.

Successful engineers of this era were only a small group but have set a precedent for success in big business up to the present day

Congratulations to Henrietta Heald
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Armstrong was a very clever man ahead of his time Would highly recommend this book, 31 Aug 2014
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This review is from: William Armstrong: Magician of the North (Paperback)
Bought as a gift for my husband to read on holiday he found it very interesting with lots of information.We had to go back for another visit to Cragside,It also rekindled his interest in Vickers Armstrongs factories along Scotswood Road which he remembered from his childhood. William Armstrong was a very clever man ahead of his time Would highly recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of genius, 16 May 2014
By 
BERYL DOWNING (NORTHUMBERLAND, UK) - See all my reviews
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Henrietta Heald's account of William Armstrong's life is beautifully-written and magisterial in managing to encompass the events and thinking of the time. Armstrong has not had the recognition he deserves. He was a visionary genius. Henrietta Heald does him proud!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST YET, 2 Dec 2010
Although I am only a third the way through this biography I can say without reservation that it is the best 'life of Armstrong' I have delved into to date. At present the only other histories in print of this great man I am aware of are 'Arms and the Man' and 'Emporer of Industry' both small booklets. The more substantial works 'WG Armstrong' and 'The Great Gunmaker' are only available on the used market at inflated prices. If you just want one history of this other great Son of Newcastle this is it, it is in my view the best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great man, 1 Jan 2014
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This review is from: William Armstrong: Magician of the North (Paperback)
A brilliant book about a brilliant man. As is stated in the book, W. Armstrong should have been as highly regarded as Nelson and Churchill.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing yet little known industrial pioneer, 23 Oct 2014
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I have visited Cragside and Bamborough Castle and wanted to get an in depth view on an amazing but little known pioneer who contributed so much to the industrial revolution and the north east. This biography does not dissapoint and is and provides a great insight to a very important yet sadly overlooked person whose inventions played a major part in our world of today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent informative book written in an easy to read style, 15 Nov 2013
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I had just visited Northumberland so was keen to find out more about the man and his achievements. The book satisfied the need and was well researched but not dry. A greater insight makes one appreciate just what a remarkable man he was.
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William Armstrong: Magician of the North
William Armstrong: Magician of the North by Henrietta Heald (Paperback - 15 Nov 2012)
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