From model railways to art nouveau

78 Derngate - house and museum

78 Derngate – house and museum

Do you know something? England (in general), and Northampton (in particular), is actually a rather nice place in the sunshine. That’s what I thought as I set out to find 78 Derngate. After I got my bearings, I found it at the other end of the road to the Royal and Derngate theatre and to Matt Smith’s (current Dr Who) tailor (allegedly). If you were a local you might have known that the house and museum are almost opposite the Cheyne Walk entrance to the general hospital.

The house is probably most famous for its connection with the Scottish artist and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh who was commissioned by Bassett-Lowke when he wanted to refurbish his house in 1916. If you are interested in the history of design or of the early twentieth century then you could happily spend an hour or two here (my ticket cost £6.70). There’s a café too, as well as exhibition space, which are free to enter. The current exhibition is called “Spring into Summer” (till 30th June) and features a number of paintings of various interest and quality.

Oh dear, it looks like I am going to damn this place with faint praise – not intentionally, I promise you. It is not a big museum – in fact the exhibition, entrance and café are in numbers 80 and 82 – and my interest is not in the art nor in the details of the restoration. In fact, it was a TV programme about model railways – and their social history – that piqued my interest. The then owner of the house, Wenham Joseph Bassett-Lowke, was one of the first people to popularise model railways in this country. Firstly through German imports, then, after the “Great War” (World War I) through manufacture in this country. It was an aside in that programme that informed me that this interesting, perhaps intimidating, pioneering character had lived just a few miles away at 78 Derngate.

The story also includes links to art nouveau, the Fabian society, politics, local history, theatre and even George Bernard Shaw. If you do get a chance to visit, take a look at the guest bedroom. I wish I had a photo to show you: it is somewhat startling and the stripes that are meant to evoke a canopy hurt the eye. I had to avert my gaze. Apparently, on one visit, George Bernard Shaw was warned about the room he was to stay in but he is said to have replied that that was alright because he always slept with his eyes shut!

Thus I came to the Glasgow style starting with model railways via 78 Derngate.

I would not spend all day or all morning here. However, having gift-aided my entrance fee, I now have an annual pass and intend bringing some house guests when they next visit.

Derngate, Northampton, looking north towards the theatres

Derngate, Northampton, looking north towards the theatres