Cragside, the beautiful seat of Lord Armstrong, with its gardens and grounds and terraced walks, stands upon what was, some five-and twenty years ago, a barren hill-side overlooking the deep gorge of the Debdon Burn, a little stream which joins the Coquet about a mile to the east of Rothbury. The house is, both in situation and appearance, certainly the most picturesque and interesting of modern Border mansions. The only other which rises naturally to the mind as suggesting comparison with it is Abbotsford, which rose under the eye of the great master in the domain of fiction, as Cragside has risen under the eye of as great a master in the domain of fact.
The building was begun in 1863. It was designed by Norman Shaw, R.A., and is partly Gothic and partly sixteenth century in style. Our views will give some idea of its many gabled picturesqueness, and of the charming effect of its quaint stacks of chimneys, and its red-tiled, high-pitched roofs, when seen against the dark green foliage, the sombre hill-side, or defined against the sky. The dome-topped tower shown in both pictures has, since they were drawn, been heightened considerably. It bears the name of “Gilnockie Tower,” presumably in honour of Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, that mosstrooper so famous in Border song, who may have been one of the fore-elders of the noble owner of Cragside.
Beautiful as is the building, it is rendered more so by its surroundings. Every natural advantage has been greatly utilized or improved; even natural disadvantages have been conquered and turned to good account. On the steep sides of the hill walks and drives have been formed which lead by easy ascents up to the house and the hill top which rises behind it. From this hill top, where stands the huge solitary boulder called the Sea Stone, we look down upon Cragside, and upon the town of Rothbury lying in the Coquet Valley, with Simonside rising high above. Close by us are the two new lakes formed by the engineering skill of the genius of the place, probably upon the sites where ancient lakes once gathered, while away to the east we see the North Sea gleaming in the distance. Descending again, we may admire the formal beauty of the trim Italian Garden, or the wonders of the Orchard Houses. In these latter, dwarf fruit-trees are grown in large pots which turn on pivots, so that each side in turn enjoys the ripening influence of the sun, or the whole can, by hydraulic power, be wheeled out into the open air with the gangways on which they stand. Then there are the noble Conservatory, the Fern Grotto, and the spacious grounds where nourish in bewildering profusion the rarest and most beautiful trees and shrubs. Or, again, we may descend still lower, into the deep ravine of the Debdon Burn, and follow the windings of the stream the wooded cliffs towering over us on either side and forming a veritable fairy glen of most romantic beauty.
The interior of the house is worthy of its surroundings. Here is gathered together a collection of works of art such as only cultivated taste combined with great wealth could make possible, and this collection of gems is seen in a setting befitting it. There are noble apartments with panelled roofs, with decorations and furnishings the most superb staircases and corridors and cosy nooks are there and throughout all breathes a quiet sense of home-like comfort which enhances the beauty of the greatest treasures, and which even such magnificence would be poor without. A splendid chimney-piece of richly carved and costly marble fills nearly the whole of one side of the drawing-room. On one side of it there is a cosy chimney corner. Over the ingle nook of the dining-room fireplace we see carved in the stone the sentiment which fills the whole place the kindly North-Country proverb, “East or west, hame’s best.”
The pictures of Cragside are a sight in themselves. Not only in the picture gallery, but in the library, drawing-room, dining-room, and the staircases they are to be found. We have not space to give even a list of them all, but among them are the following: Millais’s “Jepthah’s Daughter,” and his celebrated landscape “Chill October,” Wilkie’s well-known “Rabbit on the the Wall,” Sir F. Leighton’s “Venetian Lady,” Linnell’s “Thunderstorm,” George Leslie’s “Cowslip Gatherers,” O’Neill’s “Death of Raphael,” David Cox’s “Lancaster Sands,” John Phillips’s “Flower Girl,” and pictures by Turner, Clarkson Stanfield, Copley Fielding, Ansdell, Rosa Bonheur, Albert Moore, H. H. Emmerson, R. Jobling, Hook, Muller, A. Scheyer, Peter Graham, and other artists.
This veritable home of art is notable also as exemplifying the triumphs of science in the application of the forces of nature to the service of man. The mountain stream which rushes past supplies the power which fills the house with the radiance of the electric light. The same long-wasted force, by the aid of hydraulic rams, supplies the house and gardens with water, and fills the lakes which lie on the hill top above. Many other ingenious and unique contrivances there are of a similar nature. Altogether, Cragside, like its master, is one of the wonders of the North.
R. J. C.