The Northumberland & Newcastle Society wrote an exciting review of Cragend Farm as part of our Open Day visit in June 2017. Here is the piece in full and further information about the society can be found at www.nandnsociety.org.uk:
Cragend Farm’s Armstrong legacy.
From the Carriage Drive at Cragside, you may well have looked down on Cragend Farm just south of the estate boundary, your eye drawn by the unusual silo with its rectangular silage bays on either side of a higher cross-gabled central section. A Farm Open Day on 14th June provided the opportunity to see this unique Grade II* listed building and the rest of the farm at close quarters.
Lou and Shaun Renwick moved to Cragend Farm in 2011, replacing an earlier family tenancy that had lasted more than 100 years. They aim to restore and revitalise the entire site which was once part of the land bought by Lord Armstrong from the Duke of Northumberland in the 1860s to create the Cragside estate. In the 1880s Armstrong turned his attention to creating a model farm incorporating the latest technology. A turbine in one of the buildings - once cleared of a 4-foot deep accumulation of “muck” - was discovered to be a fixture, originally fed by Blackburn Lake reservoir high up on the estate. There is evidence that it was used to power machinery in the buildings, but the water also flowed on down through pipes beneath the buildings to the silo tower which contained a central hydraulically-operated chopping machine and ton weights in the wings of the building that pummelled the chopped grass to create silage. A further innovation was the weighbridge, exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1871 then installed at Cragend to weigh grain; the platform was uncovered intact and in situ, and there are still working parts, recently restored, in the tiny weighbridge house. Armstrong added workers’ cottages which are similar to buildings at Cragside, and contribute to the model farm appearance.
The site has been farmed since the 16th century, and Lord Armstrong was as keen to keep livestock as to install machinery. He invested heavily in prize Shorthorn beef cattle, housing each cow separately in a row of “cow stables”, a wooden terrace along a flagged walk that now looks like a little mediaeval street, and is being carefully renovated for further use. The bull had a sturdy byre and a spacious yard in which to carry out his duties; now it’s a paradise for chickens foraging among the grass and wild flowers.
The Renwicks don’t want to lose sight of Cragend’s agricultural function, and are continuing the tradition with their Park Type Pedigree Cheviot sheep and a growing herd of Whitebred Shorthorn cattle, as well as grazing mixed breed sheep and keeping chickens for eggs and for sale. In six years, they have created a family home, Cragend Grange, from a run of stone buildings comprising the old granary, byres, milking parlour, cooling room and pump room (which now houses a loo alongside the turbine) and succeeded in conserving the external appearance much as it would have been 150 years ago. In 2015 it was shortlisted for the Northern Regional LABC Building Excellence Awards as Best Individual New House, and Best Craftsman & Builder. But like all farmers, they need to diversify, so are offering B&B and self-catering accommodation, a range of courses for adults and children, and have a sustainable forestry operation to sell logs as well as to power their own heating and cooking. The traditional Northumberland farmhouse still looks down its beautiful sloping south-facing garden to the Rothbury road and is yet to be renovated; the interior is a record of decades of tenants, not least through the layers of wallpaper! It too will become rentable accommodation. They also need to conserve and manage an SSSI on part of their land. The whole project in less energetic hands would perhaps be overwhelming, but the Renwicks are well on the way to recreating this once derelict farm as a centre of productive rural activities.
Find Out More About Cragend
Cragend Farm has a interesting and diverse history, from technical innovations to historic buildings. Tied in closely to the neighbouring Cragside Estate home of Victorian inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong.