78 Derngate was built in c1815 by William Mobbs when his father, who owned the land, gave him a plot which stretched 59 feet by 113 feet. On this he built numbers 76,78 and 80 Derngate; originally investment properties that were leased out to respectable people of the lower middle classes of the time.
In 1915 the house was bought for £250 as a wedding present for Wenman J Bassett-Lowke and his bride Florence Jane Jones. With the help of Northampton-based architect Alexander Ellis, who also designed Crockett & Jones’ main entrance on Perry Street, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh they began transforming the house. They started with architectural alterations to the rear bay of the house, enlarging the garden and turning the stair case round by 90% at the cost of £650; which in WW1 Northampton was a large expense.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who was living in London at the time of the renovation, was a Glaswegian artist who was best known for his 'Glasgow School of Art' building. It is thought that Francis Newbury, Headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art, introduced Mackintosh to Bassett-Lowke. After the pair had met up in London a letter was discovered written by Basset-Lowke which states, “I have obtained possession of the house today…Thus it was to Mackintosh’s ideas that I eventually made the reconstruction”.
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 which were made and some not. The originals are in the Mackintosh Collection at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow.
Mackintosh continued to keep his close relationship with the Jones Family after the renovation of 78 Derngate. Each year from 1922 Bassett-Lowke commissioned a personal Christmas card, with Mackintosh drawing the first. The cards represented the turning of the New Year, conveying a sense of speed and optimism. As well as this, in c1917 Frank Jones used Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s designs for his house ‘Candida Cottage’, along with designs for his furniture and dining room; the house is now Grade II listed.
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