Country houses as models of self-sufficiency

One of the original electrical dynamos in the Power House at Cragside. ©Tracing Green/Adam Vaughan

When the first country houses began using electricity, there was no national grid (the establishment of which commenced in 1926, after the passing of the Electricity (Supply) Bill). Although electricity companies supplied houses in towns and cities from central power plants, most country houses were too remote and isolated to be part of any kind of commercial supply system. Rather they needed to supply their own electricity on site by installing their own generating equipment. This is a key theme which we will be drawing out in the case of each of the three houses over the course of the project, especially with reference to the resources for schools – on which more in a later blog entry.

It’s a particularly relevant theme today because of the increased emphasis placed on our homes becoming more self-sufficient, with the ultimate, although largely unattainable goal, of being ‘off the grid’ entirely. It is becoming more common, for example, to see houses with solar panels on the roof in an attempt to reduce dependency on the national grid. At Cragside they are taking steps, along with the rest of the National Trust, to generate 50% of their energy from renewable sources such as hydroelectricity by 2020. Some housing initiatives even promote being ‘carbon negative’: actually giving back to the grid more than they use.

This is not yet widespread, and may take a while to become so. Nevertheless, given our growing awareness of the importance of sustainable energy sources, might increasingly self-sufficient country houses become one of the models we look to when assessing our future energy plans?