78 Derngate is the name, and address, of an interesting little museum in Northampton showcasing the work of two famous men, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke.
Bassett-Lowke (1877-1953) owned and lived in 78 Derngate which is an elegant Georgian townhouse built in 1820 and now a grade II listed building.
He was a Northampton man who founded the firm Bassett-Lowke which, from around 1900 to 1965, was probably the most famous model making brand in the world, specialising in model railways, waterline ship models and model engineering equipment of outstanding quality.
Bassett-Lowke Ltd was the brand but manufacturing was contracted out to firms like Twining Models and Winteringham’s, both Northampton manufacturers now sadly no more.
Bassett-Lowke models were always highly priced and out of reach of the average kid who would be more familiar with makes like Hornby. The firm went bust in 1965 but the brand name was later revived and is now owned by Corgi, who sell their high end model trains under that name at prices like £619 for a single locomotive model.
Of course the original old models are very valuable and highly sought after by collectors. Even Bassett-Lowke’s old mail order catalogues such as those below can sell for upwards of £300, which is more evidence for why you should never throw anything away!
Besides running his model business, Bassett-Lowke was very interested in design and in 1916 he commissioned the famous architect, artist and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) to completely refashion his Derngate house. The results of this dramatic remodelling can now be seen by the public at 78 Derngate. The charitable trust behind the museum spent around £1.4million on faithfully restoring the property to how it must have looked when Mackintosh completed his work.
One of the more striking rooms, though not really my cup of tea, is the bedroom with its striped wall and ceiling. Apparently George Bernard Shaw, who was a friend of Bassett-Lowke and shared his Fabian socialist politics, stayed in this room. When asked whether the decor would affect his sleep he replied no because he slept with his eyes closed. Incidentally, Bassett-Lowke produced a Bernard Shaw figurine as an ‘O’ scale model railway platform accessory.
78 Derngate was Mackintosh’s last major commission and the only house he designed in England though of course many more examples of his work and career can be found in his home town of Glasgow.
Mackintosh must have been a brave man to walk around Glasgow with a tie like that! Perhaps his dress sense was a factor in his decision in later life to move to Port Vendres in southern France, close to the border with Spain. Here he was able to devote more time to his other talents as an artist.
More information on 78 Derngate can be obtained from the museum’s website.