Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877 – 1953) was the son of Joseph Tom Lowke. Tom Lowke’s stepfather, Absalom Bassett, had established a boiler making business in Kingswell Street, Northampton, in 1859. Tom Lowke continued the business, and when he married he gave his two sons, Wenman and Harold, the middle name of ‘Bassett’ in honour of his stepfather. W. J. himself married Florence Jane Jones, the daughter of Charles Jones, one of the founders of the Crockett and Jones shoe manufactory, still in business today.
It was for their impending marriage in the spring of 1917 that Tom Lowke bought them 78 Derngate. Bassett-Lowke was already interested in modern architecture and design and he wanted to encourage good design in others. He was an early member of the Design and Industries Association, established in 1915 to encourage good design in all aspects of manufacture. His personal taste was for the modern and the streamlined. He agreed with the DIA slogan: ‘fitness for purpose’. He was also intrigued by ingenious gadgets, and delighted in the mechanical toys that he bought on his frequent trips to the continent.
By the mid-1920s Bassett-Lowke was able to commission a completely new house. He approached the German architect Peter Behrens, who was in the forefront of the modern movement in Germany, fusing art and industry. Behrens worked for Bassett-Lowke without visiting Northampton. In April 1925 Bassett-Lowke and his builder Charles Green had one meeting with Behrens in Paris and in 1926 the Bassett-Lowkes moved into their remarkable new house, ‘New Ways’.
Although Bassett-Lowke left school at thirteen, he absorbed many new ideas from his travelling and contact with people from all walks of life. He went on fact-finding missions to Germany and Holland. He was also keen to ensure that the outside world appreciated the benefits of Northampton. In 1932, he was instrumental in producing a film showing Northampton’s history and current attractions. Despite his incessant travel, Bassett-Lowke never thought of leaving Northampton. He was a member of many societies, including the Rotary Club, of which he was a founder. His work on the Council gave him most opportunity to influence the future of Northampton. He was also a founder Director of the Northampton Repertory Theatre in 1926.
This article utilises text prepared for the 78 Derngate website by Dr Sylvia Pinches, Barbara Floyer, Rebecca Calcott and others.