William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong

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William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong CB, FRS (26 November 1810 – 27 December 1900) was a Tyneside industrialist who was the effective founder of the Armstrong Whitworth manufacturing empire.


Early life

He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, at 9 Pleasant Row, Shieldfield, about a mile from the city centre. The house no longer exists but an inscribed granite tablet marks the spot. At that time the area, next to the Pandon Dene, was rural. His father, also called William, was a corn merchant on the Newcastle quayside, who became mayor of Newcastle in 1850. An older sister, Anne, born in 1802,[1] was named after his mother, the daughter of William Potter.[2]

Armstrong was educated at private schools in Newcastle and Whickham, near Gateshead until he was sixteen, when he was sent to Bishop Auckland Grammar School. While there, he often visited the nearby engineering works of William Ramshaw. During his visits he met his future wife, Ramshaw’s daughter Margaret, six years his senior.[1]

Armstrong’s father was set on him following a career in the law, and so he was articled to Armorer Donkin, a solicitor friend of his father’s. He spent five years in London studying law and returned to Newcastle in 1833. In 1835 he became a partner in Donkin’s business and the firm became Donkin, Stable and Armstrong. Armstrong married Margaret Ramshaw in 1835, and they built a house in Jesmond Dene, on the eastern edge of Newcastle. Armstrong worked for eleven years as a solicitor, but during his spare time he showed great interest in engineering.[1]

Change of career

Armstrong was a very keen angler, and while fishing on the River Dee at Dentdale in the Pennines, he saw a waterwheel in action, supplying power to a marble quarry. It struck Armstrong that much of the available power was being wasted. When he returned to Newcastle, he designed a rotary engine powered by water, and this was built in the High Bridge works of his friend Henry Watson. Unfortunately, little interest was shown in the engine. Armstrong subsequently developed a piston engine instead of a rotary one and decided that it might be suitable for driving a hydraulic crane. In 1846 his work as an amateur scientist was recognized when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[3]

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