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Illuminations

Modern memory leaps too fast from the steam age to the information age. In between, at the end of the 19th century, was a spectacular epoch of light and power inventions which shaped the modern world. And the story of electric light illustrates the close entanglement of science, technology and commerce

By Simon Schaffer   December 2004

Revolution is not what you expect from the National Trust. Yet Cragside, so the Trust’s guide announces, is a “revolutionary home.” Set in a thousand acres of Northumberland pine forest, surrounded by charming lakes and tumbling waterfalls, it is hard at first to see what is so revolutionary about the place. The house is a vast, late-Victorian pile of towers, crenellations, gatehouses and mullion windows, exactly as old as the Trust itself. But this was the home of cutting-edge technology in the final decades of the 19th century. The house’s owner, William Armstrong, was the master of Tyneside military engineering…

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