The 1916/17 Transformation
In March 1917 Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke and his bride Florence Jones moved in. Over the previous nine months the house had been transformed from a rather pokey and old-fashioned house into a modern and convenient home. One of the most significant features was the addition of a rectangular extension at the rear, enlarging the kitchen and the dining room above, and forming an enclosed balcony for the master bedroom and an open one for the guest bedroom.
The transformation had been achieved by Bassett-Lowke with the help of Northampton-based architect Alexander Ellis Anderson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There are still some areas of uncertainty as to who was responsible for what, although the over-all effect was created by Mackintosh.
The primary documentary evidence consists of plans submitted for building regulation in June 1916; a number of drawings and plans by Mackintosh; six letters from Bassett-Lowke to Mackintosh, 1916-1919; some notes which Bassett-Lowke wrote later in life and correspondence he had with Thomas Howarth, Mackintosh’ biographer in the late 1940s; numerous black and white photographs taken by Bassett-Lowke. There were also a number of contemporary articles published about the transformation. [Copies of all these documents, articles and photographs are in the 78 Derngate Archive]. From these sources, it would seem that in the late spring of 1916 Bassett-Lowke had his eye on this house, conveniently close to his work in Kingswell Street, relatively cheap, being a hundred years old, but in a street that was seeing something of a revival.
A number of neighbouring houses had recently been improved, including number 70, ‘Sarnia’, by his friend, the architect Keighley Cobb. Possibly in consultation with Cobb, Bassett-Lowke got plans drawn up by a Scottish architect long resident in Northampton, Alexander Ellis Anderson. These plans were submitted to the Planning Authority on 1 June 1916. They show a flat-roofed bay extension at the front, and a two story flat-roofed extension at the back. They also show the staircase moved around through 90 degrees.
Around this time Bassett-Lowke was introduced to Mackintosh – in a later note he says that he cannot remember who introduced them ‘a friend in connection with the Glasgow School of Art’ (quite possibly Francis Newbery, Headmaster of the School). By 31 July 1916, in the first surviving letter to Mackintosh, he is thanking him for ‘the drawings’, and saying that he has taken possession of the house that day (the deed was drawn up on 1 July). Although Bassett-Lowke told Howarth in 1946 that the structural alterations were already taking place when he met Mackintosh, it is possible that Mackintosh took the basic idea as shown in the Anderson plans, and suggested carrying the bay up the entire elevation, creating the veranda and balcony to the bedrooms.
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 actually made and some not. The originals are in the Mackintosh Collection at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs by Roger Billcliffe