Before its time historic Art-Deco house is a Northampton treasure not to be missed

Too often, it's easy to get caught up in some of the architectural dreariness of Northampton without seeing the historical landmarks that make our town a superb one-off.

Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 5:36 pm
Updated Friday, 14th September 2018, 3:38 pm
The theatrical lounge/hall was the point of entry into the house from the street. The room is most famous for its medievalist candelabrum, yellow and black geometric graphics and panels of decorative leaded glass to brighten the stairway from the kitchen downstairs,

The dialogue in this town can have a ripple effect and many residents and workers often fall foul by repeatedly questioning: 'what is there to come into Northampton for?' Well there's one particular exhibition that comes to mind.

There are some buildings to which a mere visit makes tourists feel they have travelled back in time, and 78 Derngate in Northampton's cultural quarter, is just one of them.

Whether or not you enjoy architecture or interior design this 19th-century building and exhibition can only inspire those to want to do more with their home decor, avoiding the typical show home magnolia walls entirely, and stand out from the crowd with stunning symmetry, clever lighting and bold geometry of squares and triangles.

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The kitchen still features its former kitchen and wall tiles from 1916.

Visitors can not only explore the old house and garden but also enjoy hearing about the visionary creative minds, which made the property famous, namely the well-known Northampton model-maker Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The Grade II listed Georgian house – adjoining 80 Derngate – has been open to visitors in its current guise since 2003, following an elaborate £1.4 million restoration project. The 78 Derngate Northampton Trust has been managing the building since 1998 - after it was given to them on a 100-year lease from the borough council.

Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an unusual and forward-thinking character asked to work on a humble terraced house in 1916 by Northampton-born model maker Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke - though Mr Mackintosh did not ever visit the house in person.

The house was gifted to Mr Bassett-Lowke by his rich father, a former boiler engineer, as a wedding present after he bought the property for £250 plus an additional £70 to increase the garden size.

The lattice works of the walls in the landing, outside the bathroom and couples' bedroom, reflects the hall screen and changes from black to white from the lounge/hall. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds.

But why are people still excited about the house today?

One of the most eye-achingly striking rooms is the lounge hall, which would have been the first vision to greet the senses of the family’s visitors - and influence wealthy clients and friends.

With original decorative glass panelling – which fortunately for Northampton was never sold to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum despite its requests – the black, dramatic space is full of typically Mackintosh design features and would dazzle any neighbour taking a peep through the window.

A walk upstairs takes visitors into even more beautifully restored rooms, including the bold patterned guest bedroom – where George Bernard Shaw spent the night as a visitor in 1920.

The dazzling furniture and decor of the guest bedroom were designed by Mr Mackintosh - with the blue light shades giving a nod to bluebells.

The Pygmalion writer, as recited by the tour guide, was doorstepped by a journalist at the time of his stay in Northampton and was asked whether the decoration affected his sleep, to which he replied: 'I sleep with my eyes shut'.

Mr Shaw would've had access to the upstairs bathroom, which contains many original features, including stonework-effect wallpaper, a functioning bath, ginormous shower head, central heating and running water.

Throughout the tour, the house showed how modern and advanced the Bassett-Lowke’s home would have been for a time throughout the First World War.

Controversially, for that time period, their housemaid was a German woman, called Lottie.

Tryphena stood on the doorstep of 78 Derngate with her husband Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke.

The house eventually ran entirely on electricity after Mr Bassett-Lowke convinced the town hall (then the Guildhall) to install electric, which in turn, conveniently suited him down to the ground.

The house’s later history saw it pass out of the hands of the Bassett-Lowke. By 1964, it was the base for Northampton High School.

When the school sold the site, a campaign was launched, backed by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, to enable its preservation and restoration; a dream which came true thanks to the work of the 78 Derngate Northampton Trust and financial support from Heritage Lottery funding.

Former deputy of the borough council and now secretary of 78 Derngate Northampton Trust, Les Patterson said it is his ambition is now to extend number 82 Derngate, which the trust owns, and make way for a bigger atrium area and shopping space to cater for the 12,000 plus visitors who walk through the doors each year.

Whether you're in the mood for a bite to eat or an afternoon of culture, this jewel in Northampton's crown should top of your list. 78 Derngate can be visited six days a week, excluding Mondays, 10am - 5pm.