The Cultural Quarter of Northampton includes the World-Famous Leather & Shoe Museum, Royal & Derngate Theatre, NN Contemporary Art Gallery, Errol Flynn Film House and the impressive 78 Derngate, where you can view the only house designed and modified in England by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the most famous architects and creative designers of the twentieth century.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was hugely influenced by the major design movement of Art Nouveau and was an influential figure in the growth of Art Deco and Modernism. The Georgian terraced house at 78 Derngate had been built in 1815, but the interior was not extensively remodelled by Mackintosh until 1916, just over a hundred years later.
It is the only house in England designed and renovated by Mackintosh and became his last major architectural project and commission, before his death, twelve years later, at the age of sixty. Now meticulously restored, the stunning Mackintosh interior décor attracts many thousands of visitors, to this multi award-winning visitor attraction. The refurbishment had been commissioned by Northampton businessman and model maker, Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke.
Visitors can join an informative and entertaining guided tour which takes about 90 minutes, learning about the house, design pieces, Mackintosh and the inspirational Bassett – Lowke. Mackintosh is reputed to have said, “There should be nothing in your home, that is older than yourself! It got me thinking about my own home!
The rooms include a striking black room: the Hall-Lounge, with a yellow-stencilled wallpaper motif of inverted triangles and a stairwell panel of twenty panels of yellow triangular shapes, single thin black lines and seven squared panels across the bottom, all with light illuminating and enhancing the forms.
The guest bedroom with its decoration of bold ultramarine, black and white stripes is striking. For many guests, it may have been difficult sleeping in such a room. The stripes running down the wall, across the ceiling with similar matching curtains was designed to give the impression of a four-poster bed.
Despite this, Author George Bernard Shaw managed to sleep in the room on his only visit to the house, because as he remarked, “I always sleep with my eyes closed`. There was a small bust of the playwright, celebrating the authors visit to the house, in the hall-lounge.
The dining room is very different, but Mackintosh was responsible for the design of the whole room including the small mantle clock and a small round table with a circular selection of marble patterns.
The border in the master bedroom is a familiar Mackintosh stylised rose design and there is a large American washbasin in the corner, with hot and cold running water. The large bathroom includes an Edwardian shower, deep bath and most unusual for the time, a hot towel rail. I thought the walls were covered in small mosaic tiles, until I realised it was a very convincing waterproof wallpaper.
Bassett – Lowke introduced all the latest modern technology into the house including central heating and indoor plumbing. It was in the kitchen where an electric oven, grill toaster and a kitchen range competed for attention. The rear of the house features the two elevated balconies which would have overlooked open meadows when built in 1916. The garden today is a bright open space with seating and benches for when the weather allows visitors to sit outside.
Between 1964 and 1993 the house was used by Northampton High School for Girls, firstly as offices then classrooms, before their move to Hardingstone. Much of the design work had been painted over or covered up, before a major renovation programme started in 2002 to return the house to Mackintosh’s original design. After eighteen months of restoration, the house was opened to the public in late 2003.
The house is also a special meeting venue with rooms for business, corporate events and functions, a stylish design shop, visitor reception and administration offices. Inside numbers 80/82 Derngate there is a wonderful restaurant serving afternoon tea and exhibition space in the light-filled galleries.
If you are interested in the arts or simply want to visit an historic town house, art gallery or fancy a bite to eat or a cuppa in a stylish café/restaurant, I would fully recommend you discover 78 Derngate at the earliest opportunity on your next visit to Northampton.
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House,
78 Derngate, Northampton, NN1 1UH
01604 603 407
The Travel Locker
Jim Davis is a retired Northamptonshire secondary school teacher. Having worked as a freelance journalist for many years, he now writes a travel blog.He is available to write blog reviews for attractions, hotels and restaurants across the Midlands. Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org