Now a residence for the elderly, the elegant Victorian building known as Underhill on
Low Fell, was the first domestic property in the world to be lit by electric
light bulb. Which is not surprising, really, as it was once the home of Sir
Joseph Swan, the local lad who invented the said item.
The blue plaque on the wall (which you can just about make out on the picture above) pretty much says it all:
Joseph Wilson Swan
lived here 1869-1883
A physicist and chemist, his experiments
here led to him inventing the first
electric light bulb. Underhill was
the first house in the world
to be wired for domestic
It was in the conservatory of his home that most of his experiments were conducted. Dry plate photography and engraving, for one thing; and, of course, the making of filaments for incandescent electric lamps. He had been fiddling around with his idea on and off since 1850, but was not able to declare the idea a success until 1880 – which is when he probably had Underhill suitably kitted out. In December of the very same year, Swan travelled up to his friend’s house, Sir William Armstrong’s Cragside, to supervise the installation of electric lighting there, too.
Internally, Underhill remains relatively unspoilt, retaining its staircase, most of the woodwork, fireplaces and the original bathroom.