Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Tucked away in Northampton is a gem of a house that is totally unique. Ann Evans goes along to visit 78 Derngate.
If you’re interested in design, architecture, history or model engineering, you’ll find it all at 78 Derngate. This 4-storey Georgian terraced house is probably the most famous house in Northampton as it is the only house in England designed by the renowned Scottish architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). And if you’re wondering what model engineering has to do with it, 78 Derngate was the home of W.J. Bassett-Lowke (1877-1953) famous for his model trains and boats.
Wenman.Joseph Bassett-Lowke came from an engineering background in Northampton, but rather than going into heavy engineering, his passion was for model engineering. He, along with H.F.R.Franklin and help from W.J’s father, they set up the company Bassett-Lowke in 1899 as a model engineering supplies company. It became one of the country’s largest suppliers of model railways, garden railways, model ships and exhibition models.
His home of 78 Derngate was originally bought for him and his wife, Florence Jane, by his father, boilerman, Joseph Tom Lowke in 1916. It had been built 100 years previously. After moving into Derngate, W.J. had the house re-designed by an acquaintance of his, the now famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who radically transformed the simple terraced house into a work of art with his unique styles and visions.
78 Derngate was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s final major commission and it is the only place in the world where Mackintosh’s architectural and interior style can be seen in its original setting.
Fortunately, Bassett-Lowke was also a writer and photographer, and being so delighted with his beautifully designed home, he wrote a 5-page illustrated article for Ideal Home magazine. It was so detailed that in later years Friends of 78 Derngate were able, with the help of a National Lottery grant, restore every room to how it was when he lived there, using original fittings and furnishings or replicas. They were also able to purchase the two houses alongside which provided the space needed to create the multi award-winning visitor’s attraction you see today.
Visitors can take a guided tour around the house, or a self-guide tour, discovering every room and gallery including the kitchen, the bathroom, even the beautiful Mackintosh designed guest bedroom where George Bernard Shaw once slept.
There are light-filled art galleries, a stylish design shop and elegant spaces to relax in, plus areas that can be hired for meetings and events. There’s a gift shop selling a fine array of souvenirs, books, jewellery and accessories; and a delightful dining room that specialises in afternoon cream teas served on rose patterned china tea sets.
There is an abundance of photographs and models as you explore which will delight the model railway fans, including photos of early Bassett-Lowke shops in London, Edinburgh and Manchester as well as the factories where the model trains and boats were produced. It’s probably not so well known that Bassett-Lowke didn’t just make boys’ toys. For a brief time, he also made doll’s house furniture. Not surprisingly, much of it was designed in Charles Rennie Mackintosh style.
For more details visit: https://www.78derngate.org.uk/