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William Armstrong – The Magician of the North

On Monday 29th January the college welcomed Henrietta Heald to give the 7th Richard Berg Rust Annual Lecture.

Richard, who died very suddenly in 2017, made a great contribution to the College as Fellow and Development Director. He grew up on Tyneside and loved the history, speech and culture of Northumbria and the North of England.

Before he died, he was already arranging events celebrating just that in College, and hoped to make them an annual fixture in the calendar.

From left: Dr Charles Moseley, series convenor; Henrietta Heald, speaker; Claire Murphy, Richard’s partner; and Judith Rust, Richard’s sister. Right: Richard Berg Rust, former Hughes Hall Development Director.

Before coming to the College, he had been Director of Development for the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, for three successful years overseeing its expansion, was also a founding member of the Northumbrian Association, and had campaigned, with the support of Sir Tom Cowie and the then Bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull, to get the Lindisfarne Gospels back to Durham Cathedral. In his memory the College instituted a yearly event – a lecture, a recital, or a performance – on Northern themes – which it hopes members and alumni and friends will help to endow to ensure its continuance.

In keeping with a ‘Northern Theme’ and as Armstrong’s biographer, Henrietta told the story of a remarkable man and his legacy both nationally and in Northeast England.

‘It was indeed a very wise choice of speaker and topic, and the question and answer session at the end was very lively.’ said Charles Mosely, convenor of the annual event series.

The convenor of the series, Hughes Hall Life Fellow Charles Moseley, reflected on this year’s lecture:

‘We had had a wonderful lecture last year on the Art of Lindisfarne, and, for this year, I felt we needed a topic completely different, though by no means less significant. Cragside, the (now National Trust) property built by William Armstrong and the first house ever to be lit by hydroelectricity, had been much in my thoughts, and I started thinking about Armstrong’s place in the industrial heart of Tyneside –  and indeed his national importance.’

‘His fertile mind was thinking about alternatives to fossil fuels when everything still depended on seemingly inexhaustible coal. And everyone to whom I spoke said, “You have got to have Henrietta Heald – if you can get her: she knows more about him than anyone else.” Indeed so: her highly praised biography was shortlisted for two literary prizes. Most recently she has written her very successful  Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines, a centenary history of the Women’s Engineering Society, which one reviewer – described by one reviewer called “quite simply one of the most important pieces of literature I shall ever read”’.

The topics in this series have indeed ranged widely and several are available online:

  • 2024 Henrietta Heald: William Armstrong – The Magician of the North
  • 2023 Anna Gannon: the Art of Lindisfarne . A recording of this event is available, click here
  • 2022 John Tomaney: Sacriston: biography of a village
  • 2021 Charles Moseley: Angles to Angels: the Conversion of the North. A recording of this event is available, click here
  • 2020 Dan Jackson: Understanding the Northumbrians
  • 2019 Laurence Sillars: Where’s North from Here?
  • 2018 Richard Evans, Beamish Hall Museum and its Development

If you would like to contribute to the Richard Berg Rust lecture fund to ensure the continuance of this fascinating and unique series please donate online and select ‘The Richard Berg Rust Lecture Fund’ or email development@hughes.cam.ac.uk.