About 78 Derngate

78 Derngate was famously re-modelled by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1916 for his client, Northampton model engineer, W.J Bassett-Lowke. Purchased for Bassett-Lowke by his father as a wedding present, the house had originally been constructed 100 years previously.

On this page you will find detailed information about the interesting history of this small terraced house, the visionary owner and its radical transformation by Mackintosh. A further section provides detail about the restoration of 78 Derngate in 2002-3. If you are interested in more detailed information about topics covered here, the final section 'Further information' provides some references to wider sources.

We also offer some publications for further reading in our online shop.

The house
The house is a typical early-nineteenth century brick terrace, built c. 1815-20. It consisted of basement kitchen and offices (opening into the garden at the back, because of the fall of the land), two ground floor rooms, two floors of two bedrooms each, and an attic room with dormer window, added later. It had a small courtyard at the rear, with a well and outside W.C.

It was built by William Mobbs, plumber and glazier, whose father John Mobbs, victualler, had bought two acres of the Tower Close in 1808. William was the great-grandfather of Edgar Mobbs, hero of the rugby field and First World War. In 1815 John Mobbs gave his son William a plot 59 feet from north to south and 113 feet from east to west, fronting the road to St. Thomas’ Well (i.e. now Derngate). On this plot William built numbers 76, 78 and (slightly later) 80. They were built as investment property, and leased out to respectable people of the lower middle class.

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78 Derngate pictured around 1916.

The nineteenth century occupants included: 1841 William Wood, auctioneer 1851 William Wood, retired auctioneer 1861 Jonathan E. Ryland, author, editor and translator 1871 Unoccupied 1881 John E. Mawbey, schoolmaster (with his wife, six teenage boy boarders and one female servant!) 1891 John Mawbey, ex-schoolmaster 1901 Sarah Buritt, of independent means In the early years of the twentieth century the tenants changed frequently. In 1916 it was bought by J. T. Lowke for his son W. J. Bassett-Lowke.

The Bassett-Lowkes lived in it until 1926. It was then sold a number of times: 1926 Harold Moore Scrivener, architect; 1932 Lily Maud Amphlett; 1948 Dr. Burgess, for his widowed mother Florence Burgess.

In 1964 Northampton High School for Girls bought the house.  At first the School leased it as offices, to K. Ward Publicity then to the Victoria Wine Company. They then used it as classrooms to teach maths and history to the 6th Form. In 1968 numbers 76,78 and 80 Derngate were Listed Grade II. ( The Listing for number 78 was upgraded to II* in 1989 ). People such as Tom Osborne Robinson had long advocated the preservation of the house. The decision of the High School to sell all their property in Derngate in the mid 1990s - ( with number 78 being vacated in 1993 ) - galvanised local and national concern.

In June 1996 Northampton Borough Council bought a 999-year lease, with the support of Maggie Barwell. Two years, later the newly-formed 78 Derngate Northampton Trust took a 99-year sub-lease with the purpose of restoring the house and opening it to the public, along with the adjoining number 80, as an exhibition and circulation space. Work began in the summer of 2002 and the house opened to the public at the end of 2003.

The owner
Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877 – 1953) was the son of Joseph Tom Lowke. Tom Lowke’s stepfather, Absalom Bassett, had established a boiler making business in Kingswell Street, Northampton, in 1859. Tom Lowke continued the business, and when he married he gave his two sons, Wenman and Harold, the middle name of ‘Bassett’ in honour of his stepfather.  W. J. himself married Florence Jane Jones, the daughter of Charles Jones, one of the founders of the Crockett and Jones shoe manufactory, still in business today.

It was for their impending marriage in the spring of 1917 that Tom Lowke bought them 78 Derngate. Bassett-Lowke was already interested in modern architecture and design and he wanted to encourage good design in others. He was an early member of the Design and Industries Association, established in 1915 to encourage good design in all aspects of manufacture. His personal taste was for the modern and the streamlined. He agreed with the DIA slogan: ‘fitness for purpose’. He was also intrigued by ingenious gadgets, and delighted in the mechanical toys that he bought on his frequent trips to the continent.

By the mid-1920s Bassett-Lowke was able to commission a completely new house. He approached the German architect Peter Behrens, who was in the forefront of the modern movement in Germany, fusing art and industry. Like Mackintosh, he worked for Bassett-Lowke without visiting Northampton. In April 1925 Bassett-Lowke and his builder Charles Green had one meeting with Behrens in Paris and in 1926 the Bassett-Lowkes moved into their remarkable new house.

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A detail of Bassett-Lowke's 1934 Christmas card.

Each year from 1922 Bassett-Lowke commissioned a personal Christmas card. Charles Rennie Mackintosh drew the first. Bassett-Lowke’s interests were reflected in these cards. The cards represented the turning of the New Year, conveying a sense of speed and optimism. Only in the darker days leading up to and during the Second World War did social and political anxieties colour the choice of subject. His pacifism and social conscience shone through. So, too, did his interest in travel, in planes, ships and trains. Always eager to see new places, to record them on film, he still had a great attachment for his hometown, which was recorded one year in a photomontage card.

Although Bassett-Lowke left school at thirteen, he absorbed many new ideas from his travelling and contact with people from all walks of life. He went on fact-finding missions to Germany and Holland. He was also keen to ensure that the outside world appreciated the benefits of Northampton. In 1932, he was instrumental in producing a film showing Northampton’s history and current attractions. Despite his incessant travel, Bassett-Lowke never thought of leaving Northampton. He was a member of many societies, including the Rotary Club, of which he was a founder. His work on the Council gave him most opportunity to influence the future of Northampton. He was also a founder Director of the Northampton Repertory Theatre in 1926.

The business
Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke:  (1877 – 1953), the son of a boiler-maker and a governess, left school at thirteen. He spent eighteen-months in an architect’s office, before joining his father in the family business. He took up the hobby of making model stationary steam engines. Realising the impossibility for the ordinary enthusiast of purchasing small parts, which he had made in his father’s workshops, he soon began a small mail-order business. His father’s bookkeeper, H. F. R. Franklin, joined him in the project.

Bassett-Lowke was a born salesman and in 1899 he and his partner published their first catalogue. Realising the value of photographs, but unable to afford printed ones, they laboriously pasted real photographs into the catalogue. Later ones were fully illustrated and had striking covers designed by well-known draughtsmen.

Bassett-Lowke was inspired by his visit to the Paris Exhibition in 1900, where he made contact with German manufacturers, from whom he bought model trains painted in British livery. Soon he began manufacture in Northampton. The company began making ‘waterline’ ship models in 1908. This type of model, showing only the parts above the waterline, were used in wartime as training aids for the Navy and Air Force. Yachts were also made to sail on boating lakes. Large shipping companies commissioned models of their luxury liners to display in their offices. Miniature railways were made for wealthy individuals and for exhibitions and resorts. The skilled model maker E. W. Twining formed Twining Models Ltd., which produced the highest quality architectural models with Bassett-Lowke Ltd.

In the 1914-18 war Bassett-Lowke Ltd. made the gauges which tested the standard parts of guns. During the 1939-45 war a great variety of work was done. A method of training for aircraft recognition using mirrors was devised. They produced training models of the sectional Inglis and later Bailey bridges. Perhaps the most important construction of this nature was the model of the floating Mulberry harbour, which was used to land troops in Normandy in 1944.

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The first Bassett-Lowke London shop
at 257 High Holborn.

In 1908 Bassett-Lowke opened his first London shop at 257 High Holborn, moving to number 112 in 1910. His company made great use of trade shows, not only displaying their own goods, but often supplying companies with models, too. Many 15” gauge railways were installed to carry visitors around exhibitions. Usually the displays were of smaller gauge models and large tabletop systems. However, mail order remained an important part of the business.

After W.J.’s death in 1953 the company continued to make high-quality ship and industrial models. The Bassett-Lowke and Franklin families sold their shares in 1967. Models are no longer made in Northampton.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in Glasgow on 7th June 1868 at no 70 Parson Street, Townhead, Glasgow. [ Location on Google Maps ]. Charles was fourth in a line of eleven children born to William McIntosh ( the Superintendent and Chief Clerk of The City of Glasgow Police ) and Margaret Rennie, his wife. William changed the spelling of his name to 'Mackintosh' and Charles followed suit sometime around 1893. [ Confusion surrounds the use of the family name, sometimes used incorrectly in modern times. In his own lifetime Charles called himself 'Charles Rennie Mackintosh', 'Mackintosh', 'C.R. Mackintosh', 'Chas. R. Mackintosh' and he was 'Toshie' to his friends but never 'Rennie Mackintosh'; 'Rennie' being his middle name and not part of his surname. ]

Mackintosh left school at 14 and began to train as an architect. Aged 21 in 1889 he joined the firm of Honeyman and Keppie whilst also continuing to attend evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art.

This was to be important not only for his artistic development, but also personally, for it was there that he met his future wife, Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933). She and her sister Frances were talented artists, and with Mackintosh and his friend Herbert McNair they became known as ‘The Four’. The young artists contributed significantly to the distinctive style of decorative art then developing in Glasgow and the group of artists, known as The Glasgow School.

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Herbert McNair, Frances Macdonald, Margaret Macdonald, Agnes Raeburn, Janet Aitken, Katherine Cameron and Jessie Keppie.
Photo: GSA Archives and Collections.

Mackintosh went on to have a brilliant but brief career as an architect, most of his commissions being completed in and around Glasgow between 1896 and 1911. His major works include The Glasgow School of Art, The Hill House, Scotland Street School and the remarkable tea room interiors for Miss Catherine Cranston. In the early 1900s, Margaret Macdonald worked with her husband on the decorative detailing of his interiors.

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The interior of The Room de Luxe at The Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow c. 1903.
Photo: The Willow Tea Rooms Trust.

Mackintosh left Honeyman and Keppie in 1914 and moved, with his wife Margaret, to England, firstly to Walberswick, Suffolk where they lived at a property known as Valley Farm [ Location ], next to The Bell Inn where he would take a drink in the evenings, and then to Chelsea where he and Margaret shared adjoining studios in Glebe Place [ Location ]. During this time he focussed on watercolour painting, and took up textile design along with Margaret. They produced numerous highly modern designs for several leading manufacturers including Foxtons.

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A detail of Mackintosh's textile design for 78 Derngate.

An unknown friend, possibly Francis Newbery, Headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art, recommended Mackintosh to W. J. Bassett-Lowke in 1916, as the right man to renovate the early 19th-century terraced house which Bassett-Lowke had bought as his first marital home.

It is uncertain as to whether Mackintosh visited Northampton during the remodelling and decoration of 78 Derngate. Much discussion was conducted by correspondence and in person, when Bassett-Lowke was in London on business. Mackintosh may, however, have seen photographs of the completed 1916-17 scheme at 78 Derngate, suggested by his vivid description of and reference to the project in a set of handwritten notes. It is also believed that he visited a couple of times later, probably in connection with the redecoration of the Hall Lounge c. 1921-22.

In 1923 the Mackintoshes left Britain for the south of France. They lived in Port-Vendres at The Hôtel du Commerce on the corner of the quay and the Rue Jules Ferry. Today the building carries a bronze plaque [ Location ] of Mackintosh which was unveiled in 2012 as part of 'The Mackintosh Trail'.

Whilst living in France Mackintosh completed many landscape paintings in a new vigorous form and The Trail follows the sites of many of them.
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The bronze plaque commemorating Mackintosh in Port Vendres.

Mackintosh returned to London in 1927 and died there on the 10th December 1928 at the age of 60 after suffering with cancer. At this stage his name and work were relatively unknown, especially so in Britain. During the remainder of the twentieth century appreciation for and knowledge about Mackintosh developed. Growing concern for the fragility and risk to his heritage lead to the formation of The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society in 1973. The Society plays a pivotal role in the conservation, preservation, maintenance and improvement of buildings and artefacts designed by Mackintosh and his contemporaries. This is achieved by means of exhibitions, lectures and educational productions.

The reputation and influence of Mackintosh continues to expand and flourish in the twenty first century. RIBA's 2015 exhibition, Mackintosh Architecture was the most successful in their history. In 2018, the 150th anniversary of his birth, several projects connected with his heritage were completed. Tragically, the year was marred with the destruction by fire of The Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Building. More optimistically the complete restoration and re-opening of The Willow Tearooms ( trading as 'Mackintosh at The Willow' ) was completed. A major retrospective exhibition at The Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, 'Charles Rennie Mackintosh Making the Glasgow Style' ran from March to August and will re-open in Liverpool at The Walker Art Gallery between March and August 2019.

Pamela Robertson, Professor Emerita of Mackintosh Studies and Honorary Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, says: "78 Derngate is of major importance in Mackintosh’s career. In terms of creative content, it is his most significant piece of design work after leaving Glasgow. The interiors strikingly and successfully combine visual impact with, for its day, high-tech infrastructure and the efficient and hygienic use of space. In its practicality and efficiency, the guiding hand of Mackintosh’s most demanding, knowledgeable and progressive patron, W J Bassett-Lowke, is clear."

Transformation 1916 - 17
In March 1917 Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke and his bride Florence Jones moved in. Over the previous nine months the house had been transformed from a rather pokey and old-fashioned house into a modern and convenient home.  One of the most significant features was the addition of a rectangular extension at the rear, enlarging the kitchen and the dining room above, and forming an enclosed balcony for the master bedroom and an open one for the guest bedroom.

The transformation had been achieved by Bassett-Lowke with the help of Northampton-based architect Alexander Ellis Anderson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There are still some areas of uncertainty as to who was responsible for what, although the over-all effect was created by Mackintosh.

The primary documentary evidence consists of plans submitted for building regulation in June 1916; a number of drawings and plans by Mackintosh; six letters from Bassett-Lowke to Mackintosh, 1916-1919; some notes which Bassett-Lowke wrote later in life and correspondence he had with Thomas Howarth, Mackintosh’ biographer in the late 1940s; numerous black and white photographs taken by Bassett-Lowke. There were also a number of contemporary articles published about the transformation. [Copies of all these documents, articles and photographs are in the 78 Derngate Archive]. From these sources, it would seem that in the late spring of 1916 Bassett-Lowke had his eye on this house, conveniently close to his work in Kingswell Street, relatively cheap, being a hundred years old, but in a street that was seeing something of a revival.

A number of neighbouring houses had recently been improved, including number 70, ‘Sarnia’, by his friend, the architect Keighley Cobb. Possibly in consultation with Cobb, Bassett-Lowke got plans drawn up by a Scottish architect long resident in Northampton, Alexander Ellis Anderson. These plans were submitted to the Planning Authority on 1 June 1916. They show a flat-roofed bay extension at the front, and a two story flat-roofed extension at the back. They also show the staircase moved around through 90 degrees.

Around this time Bassett-Lowke was introduced to Mackintosh – in a later note he says that he cannot remember who introduced them ‘a friend in connection with the Glasgow School of Art’ (quite possibly Francis Newbery, Headmaster of the School). By 31 July 1916, in the first surviving letter to Mackintosh, he is thanking him for ‘the drawings’, and saying that he has taken possession of the house that day (the deed was drawn up on 1 July). Although Bassett-Lowke told Howarth in 1946 that the structural alterations were already taking place when he met Mackintosh, it is possible that Mackintosh took the basic idea as shown in the Anderson plans, and suggested carrying the bay up the entire elevation, creating the veranda and balcony to the bedrooms.

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Detail of design drawing for 78 Derngate.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 1916.
Image: Hunterian Art Gallery.

It is the stunning interior décor which is Mackintosh’s real contribution to 78 Derngate. The majority of the Mackintosh drawings relate to the decoration of the lounge-hall and the dining room. There are also drawings of the front door and of furniture, some actually made and some not. The originals are in the Mackintosh Collection at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow.

Restoration: 2002 - 3
78 Derngate was bought by Northampton High School for Girls in 1964. It was listed Grade II* in 1968. At first the house was let out as offices, then used as classrooms. There was growing concern in Northampton and in the Mackintosh world about the preservation of the building. This concern came to a peak in the early 1990s when the school decided to sell all the property it had acquired in Derngate. Local people united with members of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society to campaign for its preservation, restoration and opening to the public.

The Borough Council was enabled to buy a 999-year lease on 78 and 80 Derngate through the generosity of Maggie Barwell in 1996. Two years later the 78 Derngate Northampton Trust was formed, with Keith Barwell as chairman. Support was forthcoming from a number of sources, including The Horne Foundation, the Phillips Trust, EB Nationwide, Servite Housing Association, Hobden Associates, Northampton Borough Council and Northamptonshire County Council. This match-funding enabled a bid to be put in for Heritage Lottery funding. A grant of £999,000 was approved in the autumn of 2001. The cost of the restoration of 78 and 80 Derngate was £1.4m.

The architects who drew up the plans for the bid and who have overseen all the work in 78 and 80 Derngate were John McAslan + Partners, a firm of international reputation. The Mackintosh-designed interior and exterior of 78 was sensitively restored and reinstated to the original 1916 – 1919 scheme.

The whole of 80 was completely remodelled to create a new visitor centre and exhibition space. Linking the galleries is a new staircase that wraps around the 4-storey glass cabinet which holds a series of exhibits relating to both Mackintosh and Bassett-Lowke. It is accompanied by a wall-mounted exhibition relating to the original design of the house and to Bassett-Lowke’s business.

The main building contractors were William Anelay Ltd. of York. This firm, established in 1749, specialises in restoration work, and has been given a Civic Award for its work on Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house in Cumbria. Other specialist contractors from around the country have brought their skills to bear.

Before any work could be done careful examination of the house itself and of related photographs and documents was undertaken.

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Professor Jake Kaner with his exact replica of
Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Guest Bedroom Washstand.
April 2015.

Perilla Kinchin, historical researcher, Mary Schoeser, fabric expert, Allyson McDermott, wallpaper conservator, and many more worked painstakingly under the direction of Sarah Jackson of John McAslan + Partners to determine the correct approach to the restoration. Wallpapers and paint finishes were recreated and curtains and carpets woven. Jake Kaner of Buckinghamshire New University, made replicas of the settle and cloaks cupboard for the lounge hall and of the beds, bedside cabinet, mirror, chairs and washstand for the guest bedroom. We are indebted to a family member for certain other items of furniture.

Further information
The Owner
Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke by Janet Bassett-Lowke,  Chester - RailRomances, 2000. ISBN: 1-900622-01-7

The Business
The Bassett-Lowke Society.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, Queen’s Cross Church, 870 Garscube Road, Glasgow, G20 7EL. Tel. 0141 946 660; e-mail: info@crmsociety.com.
The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Hillhead Street, Glasgow, G12 8QQ. Tel. 0141 330 5431; e-mail: hunter@museum.gla.ac.uk;
Annan Photographic Collection. Old photographs of Glasgow dating from 1868, including many relating to the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The Design Museum. Detailed information about Mackintosh's life and career.

Transformation: 1916-17
Further Information:
78 Derngate - a guide.
The Ideal Home, August 1920 - reprint.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs by Roger Billcliffe. ISBN: 9780810993204
Mackintosh Architecture: Context. making and meaning.

The 78 Derngate online archive
Established for our Centenary in 2017, the archive contains a growing collection of in-depth material on all aspects of the story surrounding 78 Derngate. Access the 78 Derngate online archive here.

Ask us a question
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Get social with 78 Derngate

78 Derngate is located at the end of Derngate. Walk away from the town centre past The Royal and Derngate theatres and towards Beckett's Park.