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Take a Fascinating Visit to 78 Derngate

L-R: Rob Kendal, Liz Jansson and Stuart Robertson in the new extension of 78 Derngate. Photo © Tysall's Photography.

For anyone interested in design, architecture and history then a visit to Northampton’s most famous house is a must if you’re in the area. 78 Derngate is a 4-storey Georgian terraced building is the only house in England designed by the renowned Scottish architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928).

78 Derngate is the only place in the world where Mackintosh's mature architectural and interior style can be seen in their original setting. The house is also of interest to anyone into model engineering, as 78 Derngate was the home of W.J. Bassett-Lowke (1877-1953) famous for his model trains and boats that were a part of many people’s childhood.

The new glass-fronted extension to the rear of 78 Derngate. Photo © Tysall's Photography.

Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke came from an engineering background in Northampton, but rather than following his father into heavy engineering he 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.

W.J.Bassett-Lowke and his wife Florence Jane. Photo courtesy of 78 Derngate.

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, to restore every room to how it was when he lived there. 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 or self-guided tour around the house, exploring every room and gallery including the beautiful Mackintosh designed guest bedroom where George Bernard Shaw once slept.

The lounge hall rich with Charles Rennie Mackintosh's decor. Photo © Tysall's Photography.

The house has recently undergone a year-long £950,000 refurbishment, through generous funding from West Northamptonshire Council and many organisations and individuals, creating a larger, more spacious visitor centre. A new two-storey glass extension now provides twice as much gallery space, with a newly revamped stylish shop and education centre. The gardens have also been extended and rejuvenated.

At the official opening Liz Jansson, House Manager at 78 Derngate said, “It was a great pleasure to welcome Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council England, to officially open this wonderful extension.  We are thrilled with it and are settling in well to our enhanced surroundings!  Visitors past, present and yet to come will thoroughly enjoy the added spaces inside and out, which already feel harmonious with the original heritage buildings.”

Basset-Lowke's kitchen. Photo © Tysall's Photography.

The Elementary Whatson team of Rob and Ann recently visited 78 Derngate meeting up with many of the key figures there including Liz Jansson, also Rob Kendal, Chairman of The Friends of 78 Derngate, Stuart Robertson of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society in Scotland and Christine Sanderson, author of three illustrated books in the series ‘The Making if an Identity’: Bassett-Lowke Art (2018), Bassett-Lowke War Work (2021) and Bassett-Lowke Stationery (2022).

Christine, a volunteer guide and researcher for the house commented, “The extension has made a massive difference, we have about a third more space now which includes a beautiful Mezzine area with open views over the newly extended garden – the work has been carried out by volunteers, and a lot of the flowers planted are Mackintosh’s favourites. The gallery space is lovely and gives more opportunities for different exhibitions to be held.”

The new gift shop. Photo © Tysall's Photography.

Rob Kendal, Chairman of the Friends of 78 Derngate praised the 350 members and 80 plus volunteers for all the work, time and effort they had put in over the last 18 months especially, managing to keep the house open while all the renovation work was going on.

Stuart Robertson, Director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society had travelled down from Scotland to see the newly extended house and was very impressed by the changes. He commented, “We work with venues all around England and places such as the South of France, and I think it’s great that Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work is being looked after so well here in Northampton, giving people the chance to learn about this world class artist.”

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