Here’s to light nights and a new Financial Year and the hope that the challenges of last year are behind us. We are now seeing an encouraging number of Group Bookings and a steady stream of visitors.
In the coming weeks there will be fresh deliveries of stock for the ‘shop’, some from existing suppliers along with a new suppliers of gifts and makers of craft. We already have a new range of cards in the shop and a new maker of Enamels in the Craft cabinet and this week we took delivery of a range of jewellery by Selma Stagg based on the
78 Derngate will feature in the new Charles Rennie Mackintosh Pocket Guide due to be published in June; the guide will be available in the Gift Shop. On 29th April the Mayor of Northampton will open the new Gallery Exhibition which is called ‘A Festival of Flowers’ with paintings by Northampton Botanical Artists complimented with fresh flower displays by NAFAS.
At the same time in the Gallery Upstairs and in the garden, Philippe Handford,last year’s Innovative Design Awards winner, will have a solo exhibition –‘Simply Balanced Designs’. The Marina on the far side of Becket’s Park is up and running and have opened their visitors centre. We will be making contact with the Manager and sending leaflets to put on display in the centre.
78 DERNGATE AND SCHOOLS
We recently were proud to display some Hill House replica chairs made by 6th Form Design Technology students from Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire. Last year students from Northampton High School made Mackintosh inspired lampshades following a visit to 78 Derngate.
QUEEN VICTORIA’S RAILWAY COACH
Ray Stutley who worked for Bassett-Lowke between 1931 and 1980 has been telling me some more interesting information about his working life at Bassett-Lowkes. The project of Queen Victoria’s Railway Coach was actually commissioned after he had retired from Bassett-Lowkes but he went back to work on it.
The original railway coach which was used by Queen Victoria to go around the country more easily was built in 1869 at a cost of £1800.00 of which the Queen contributed£800.00. Ray did not know how much the model was soldfor but thought it was in the thousands.
Queen Victoria’s Railway Coach was based in Bletchley Sidings. Ray never actually saw the coach and the scale model replica was reproduced from photographs as so many of the other models were in the past. The model order was placed by a book shop owner from Norwich in 1983
The coach was constructed in metal and was 6 feet long, placed on a track. The coach’s roof could be lifted off to view the interior. Ray was involved with the re-creation of the interior. All of the walls of the coach were covered with Oak veneer copied from the original as was the entire interior of the coachincluding the furniture which was faithfully recreated to scale. Even the attendant’s (who would have been on board to attend to her Majesty) little room was recreated. Ray told me that the Queen’s bed was very interesting, it was a brass bedstead and very tiny as her Majesty was so small and it was covered with a small eiderdown. Even the small hand towels with the royal crest were replicated. The curtains were looped back with little tassels on, Ray could remember making those as they were very time consuming. There were vases of flowers in her main sitting room and paper and envelopes ready for use on her desk. Ray said it was an interesting model which he very much enjoyed working on as his last project.He received a letter from the man who had commission the coach congratulating him on the fine model.
The full sized coach is on display at The National Transport Museum in York. If you go to their web site you can see photographs of the Coach and the interior. We have no record of who actually commissioned this piece but if anyone knows were it is now it would be very interesting to know and perhaps have the opportunity to view it.
A PERSONAL VIEW OF THE DICKENS HOUSE
Entering No 48 Doughty Street, a Georgian terrace house (close to Great Ormond Street), I was immediately struck by the similarity to 78 Derngate. The reception area is in No 49, a small room which acts as shop and pay desk, a very restricted area. There was no space to leave coats and bags, so we folded up our umbrellas and passed through into No 48, and two small rooms lined with paintings and Hogarth drawings, and cabinets containing classic editions of Dickens’ work.
One room was originally the dining room and the other a family room. At the back of the house is a small with its tall Georgian windows, is the most realistically decorated (with help from the lottery fund). Here the family would be together, playing games, charades, singing, playing the pianola, telling stories, reading and enjoying each others’ company. Next to the drawing room is the great man’s study containing the actual desk on which he wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers in serialized versions for magazines.
Dickens and his family lived in No 48 for only 2 years, 1837 – 39, but as it is the only residence of Dickens which is still standing, it is important as a museum, housing memorabilia of the family and classic collections and manuscripts of the famous author’s publications. In this house two of his daughters were born and his sister in law, Mary Hogarth, died tragically at the age of 17. One can imagine the scene in the bedroom where she died in his arms.
He was heartbroken. Previously that evening Mary and his wife, Catherine, had enjoyed one of his many theatrical performances. The problems of using this small house as a museum for hundreds of visitors are so reminiscent of the problems at 78 Derngate. Here there are no regular guided tours and people wander from room to room.
Information is printed on an A4 sheet, which is only possible for two people to read at a time. Each room has many artefacts to view and read about. Inevitably it is impossible to appreciate it all. In the basement a 30 min. video shows the life of Charles Dickens, absolutely fascinating, but difficult for everyone there to see clearly, and
not enough chairs or standing room even on a Thursday morning in January. The Dickens House also serves as a centre for various literary educational projects. Reading groups and research students meet here, and there is a program of educational and entertaining events.
On the top floor there is a model and plans for the newly refurbished museum. In April the doors will close, an extension will be built on the back and the whole décor will be given a face-lift to refl ect life when the Dickens family lived there. No 49 will become the visitor and learning centre (just as No 82 works for the Mackintosh House).
The present museum has been there since 1925. Over a million people have visited, and now it is time to bring it up to 2012 standard, to make it welcoming and informative, a meaningful unforgettable experience, and a memorial to one of our great writers. Well worth a visit, even before its renovation.
First published in April 2012 by The Friends of 78 Derngate.
Transcribed by Ryan Hobbs, July 2019.