William Armstrong’s Cragside home was pioneering in its use of renewable energy.

Part of the age we live in seems to be rediscovering that old ways of doing things were actually better. For example, the recent realization that the makeup of towns to encourage vibrancy through density and the support of multi-income levels versus single-strata communities is better – a millennia-old concept only deviated from with the advent of the car and suburban tract developments. Part of the human condition seems to be learning from (some) mistakes.

In the 1860s, William Armstrong was “green” before it was dreamt of. In addition to planting 7 million (yes, million) trees at his Cragside estate, he was big into renewable energy at the dawn of the electrical era. He said coal “was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications” and that Britain would run out of coal in 200 years. He was also keen to harness solar power saying that a single acre located in sunny climates would generate the power equivalent to 4,000 horses toiling for nine hours a day.