The Armstrong Effect

During this early period of his career Armstrong's imagination was also captured by an aspect of science which would become one of his greatest loves: electricity.

When in 1840 workers at Cramlington Colliery in Northumberland began to experience electric shocks from steam escaping at high-pressure from a boiler, Armstrong applied his capabilities to establishing and describing the cause of the phenomenon, later named The Armstrong Effect in his honour. He published a series of papers on the effect and developed a spark-inducing hydroelectric machine which he exhibited at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle to an audience so large that he had to enter the lecture hall through a window! His discovery led to him being elected a fellow of the Royal Society in May 1846.

The ballad, The 'Lectric Leet, written in Tyneside dialect by an unknown composer and published in 1851, describes what appears to have been an experiment producing electric light. It is thought to have been written in response to one of Armstrong's demonstrations of his hydroelectric machine2 and certainly illustrates the extent to which electricity was capturing the popular imagination in Newcastle at this time, thanks chiefly to Armstrong. The first two verses of the ballad read:

Aw heer'd a greet buz, an' seed sic a bleeze,
Aw rushed awa' oot, an' gat sic a squeeze
As myed me just twee inches langer, begox!
Didn't aw suffer wiv the greet hevy knocks!
     The new fangled leet, the dazzlin' leet,
     It vary nigh carried away ma eye seet.

When aw luiked aboot, aw seed sic a leet,
Abuv the full muin it shined oot sae breet,
Aw rubbed maw eyes, man, an' swore that the day
Had com' back aghen afore neet went away.
     The new fangled leet, the dazzlin' leet,
     It vary nigh carried away ma eye seet. 3