Bassett-Loake & No78

Wenham Joseph Bassett-Lowke, born in 1877, was one of Northampton's most avant-garde figures. He had an eye for good design and quality, which, combined with his engineering background and entrepreneurial spirit made him a leader in the model engineering world.

Beginning with a mail-order catalogue for model engineering fittings when he was only 21, he built up a worldwide reputation for precision. The Company attended international exhibitions at home and on the continent, and commissions for rail and ship models came in from as far away as the United States and India.

Bassett-Lowke also supplied the home market with the smaller gauge model railways which, in the 1920s and'30s was the dream of most boys - and their fathers - to possess. Quality did not come cheaply, however, and for many it remained a dream.

In 1912 W.J. Bassett-Lowke became engaged to Florence Jane Jones and sometime during 1915 discussed with friends his ideas for a marital home. It was suggested that he approach Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow architect and designer.

In 1916 J.T. Lowke (Bassett-Lowke's father) bought 78 Derngate for 250, with a further 75 for 'extra garden'. On June 1st., plans were submitted to Building Control in Northampton by Alexander Ellis Anderson. Anderson was an accomplished local architect of Scottish origin.
Examples of his distinctive work include:

City Buildings, Fish Street (1900),

Barratt's shoe factory in Kingsthorpe Hollow (1913),

and houses in Christchurch and Sandringham Roads (1906-1927).

A month later plans were approved and on July 31st., Bassett-Lowke took possession of 78 Derngate. Work began immediately and was completed in time for his wedding on 21st. March 1917.

Mackintosh is not thought to have visited Northampton and there is little contemporary evidence of his involvement in the structural work. Some elements such as the front bay, kitchen, bathroom, and guest bedroom fireplace bear a striking resemblance to Anderson's work elsewhere. Research continues to try to understand the contributions of Mackintosh, Bassett-Lowke and Anderson to this intriguing building.

Much of the furniture was made to Charles Rennie Mackintosh designs by German craftsmen, working in London at the outbreak of war in 1914 and subsequently interned as enemy aliens on the Isle of Man. Bassett-Lowke visited other German friends and business contacts who were interned there, and this may be how he heard about Charles Matt's furniture workshop at Knockaloe Camp.

The black lacquered furniture for the hall was made on the Isle of Man. The dining room table and chairs, designed either by Bassett-Lowke or Mackintosh, were also made there.

For the main bedroom, Bassett-Lowke may have consulted his future wife, Jane, as her niece Doris Cutting remembered furniture catalogues being brought to the Jones family home in East Park Parade.

Finding the tomb-like black of the hall too much, even for committed modernists, Bassett-Lowke approached Mackintosh at the end of 1919, to design a lighter scheme with grey walls and a smaller stencil, so the furniture and carpet would still fit in. Mackintosh's second scheme was a tour de force of space and geometry - a far cry from the feminine simplicity of The Hill House, Helensburgh (1903-4).

- from the catalogue produced by the Central Museum and Art Gallery for their exhibition 'W.J. Bassett-Lowke - A Model World', 1999. The catalogue was compiled by Judith Hodgkinson, Keeper of Social History, Northampton Museums and Art Gallery.

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