There’s not much in Northampton to attract visitors from elsewhere, especially as the Museum and Art Gallery – with its claims of showing the largest collection of shoes in the world – is closed for redevelopment. To the credit of everyone involved, it has a new university campus down on the riverside, with an Enterprise Centre opposite the railway station and, as you explore the town – which does deserve to be a city – you discover many historic buildings which hint back to a history of royal patronage and of great wealth. Ten minutes walk from the university and you find one of the town’s treasures, the interior design masterpiece by the famous Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh behind a door in a street of terraced houses, at 78 Derngate, Northampton.
This design for the industrialist Bassett-Lowke, created in 1916/17 was ahead of its time, but was Mackintosh’s last commission and the only house he designed in England. From the outside, it is only the door that looks different and hints that there might be something different inside, which indeed there is, with amazing interiors and furnishings achieved in what is quite a relatively small terraced house.
Adjacent buildings have been incorporated as part of the visitor experience to provide fascinating exhibitions both on Mackintosh and on his client Bassett-Locke, with spaces which, on my visit, had exhibitions by local artists and on lace, a local tradition which still continues.
Plans are afoot for further improvement of the adjacent facilities – which has to be supported. This building, slightly hidden in Northampton, is one of the treasures of 20th century architectural design.