Dr.Sylvia Pinches gave this address to the A.G.M. of The Friends of 78 Derngate, 26 November 2002.
Dr. Pinches began by saying how much she is enjoying her role as Curator, taken up in January 2002. Her roles are many and various, and include continuing research as well as working on the design of the exhibition and implementing the opening of the house. Her intention this evening was to give a brief overview of the history of the house before and after the Bassett-Lowke period, the current state of the building works, and a glimpse forward to the opening of the house.
Complete sets of deeds for 78 and 80 Derngate (and also for number 76) take the history of the site back to before there were houses on it. The southern side of Derngate was originally part of the Tower Close, attached to the somewhat mysterious medieval Tower, which was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1675. Even in the nineteenth century much of the land was still open, let as orchards and gardens. During the eighteenth century it had passed to Sir John Conant and his wife Mary, and in 1776 they sold six acres of Tower Close to Thomas Taylor, leather dresser of Northampton. In 1808 he sold the two most easterly acres (abutting the line of the old town wall) to John Mobbs, victualler, who owned the Black Lion in St.Giles St. In 1815 he gave a small plot, fronting the road leading from Derngate to St.Thomas’ Well, to his only son William, a plumber and glazier. William built numbers 76 to 80 Derngate (originally known as Waterloo Terrace), which were inherited by his eldest son Charles in 1837. Through his younger son John, William was the great-grandfather of Edgar Mobbs, the well-known rugby player hero of WWI.
The houses were built as an investment, for rent to respectable and reasonably well-to-do people. They were not artisans’ houses, as has sometimes been suggested. The first recorded inhabitants included Joanna White, spinster of independent means, at number 76, who married a retired draper in 1850. By 1861 it was the railway stationmaster of the town who lived at number 76. At number 80 lived for many years the Misses Fawcett, milliners. In 1858 Charles Mobbs sold number 80 to Mr. Francis Clarke, grocer, who lived there with his niece as housekeeper, until his death in 1910. In 1837 Charles Mobbs sold number 78 to a Mr. Armitage, whose mother was already the tenant. In 1841 it was bought by a Mrs. Thackeray, who let it to William Wood, an auctioneer. In 1855 it was bought by Mr. James Peach, fruiterer, who let it to Jonathan E. Ryland ‘author editor and translator’. He was the grandson of the Rev. John Collett Ryland, founder of the Baptist Chapel in College Lane. His father, Rev. John Ryland, was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society. He himself published many books, and had just been appointed curator of the newly founded Borough Museum in Northampton when he died in 1866. Dr. Pinches hoped this was not an augury! The house was unoccupied in 1871, but by 1881 the tenant was Mr. James Mawbey, schoolmaster. Living with him were his wife, five schoolboy boarders, one 21 year old boarder (a ledger clerk), and one poor 13 year old maid to look after them all! From 1878 the house belonged to Samuel North then his heirs, and from 1893 until 1916 there were frequent changes of tenant, perhaps indicating a slight decline in the status of the house.
By the eve of the First World War the houses in Waterloo Terrace were about a hundred years old, some, no doubt, no longer in the best of repair, and some used as lodging houses: However, they were still substantial dwellings, conveniently situated close to the commercial centre of the town. In the 1910s the street underwent something of a revival. In 1910 Mr. Pendred who already lived at 56 Derngate, bought number 80, and added a square bay to the front, increasing the size of this smallest of houses in Waterloo Terrace. In 1912 Mr. Keightley Cobb, architect, added the more elegant bay to the front of his house, ‘Sarnia’ number 70. As we know, on 1st June 1916 Alexander Ellis Anderson submitted plans on behalf of Mr. Bassett-Lowke to add bays to the front and back of number 78. Mr. Anderson was himself a neighbour, living at number 72, and only four weeks later he submitted plans for extending his own house at the rear and remodelling the interior. In early 1917 Towerfield’, number 66, also changed hands, having been the home of an elderly couple for many years. A short piece in the Northampton Independent, under the title ‘Derngate Redivivus ‘, expressed the opinion that the new owner would sweep away the ‘encircling gloom’ of the house, and went on to add that really Derngate was ‘undergoing quite a revival as a residential thoroughfare”
The history of number 78, and perhaps the whole of Derngate, after the time of the Bassett-Lowke was one of gentle decline, until the recent revival instituted by the Trust. In 1926 Mr. Bassett-Lowke sold number 78 to Harold Moore Scrivener, an architect about whom not a great deal is known. In 1932 he sold it to Miss Lily Amphlett, who worked at a draper’s shop in the town. In 1948 Dr. Burgess of Towcester bought it for his widowed mother: the same scenario as in 1837! In 1964 numbers 78 and 80 were bought by Northampton High School for Girls, which had been slowly buying up properties along Derngate since they first purchased number 44 in 1926. When the school wished to sell the whole site the Borough Council took out a 999 year lease in 1996 on numbers 78 and 80, with a view to restoring 78 and making a ‘visitor facility’ (hideous phrase!) in number 80. As we know, this is being brought to fruition by the work of the 78 Derngate Northampton Trust which came into existence in 1998 and took a 99 year lease from the Borough Council. The period of revived interest in the house and the institution of the Trust and the Friends is now the focus for Dr. Pinches’ research. It is a very important part of the history of the house and needs to be recorded before people forget.
Dr. Pinches then went on to report that the firm of William Anelay of York, builders experienced in restoration work, took control of the properties on 9th September 2002. Since then a massive scaffold and temporary roof have been erected over both houses. Number 80 is being gutted (plaster, internal walls and chimney breasts have already been removed). A steel frame will be inserted which will support new floors, staircase and lift shaft. A new, light and airy interior will be created to house the exhibition, which will explore and explain the work of C.R. Mackintosh and W. J. Bassett-Lowke. Inside number 78 all the original features (fireplaces, screen, bath, cupboards etc.) have been protected by layers of polystyrene, bubble-wrap and hardboard. The swing door in the hall screen has been removed and is now in safe keeping at Abington Museum. Once basic building work (damp proofing, rewiring and so on) has been completed the slow painstaking restoration of the decorative finishes will take place. Based on the careful research of the paint conservators, Crick Smith, wallpaper expert Allyson McDermott and fabric expert Mary Schoeser, a detailed plan has been drawn up to return number 78 to its appearance in March 1917 when the Bassett-Lowkes got married. Dr. Pinches has seen samples of fabric and the colour palette which will be used. She would not show the Friends the samples, as she wants it to be a wonderful surprise to everyone. Although the house will be somewhat bare, apart from key pieces of replicated furniture, the decorative effect will be stunning, and the volunteer guides will bring the place to life for the visitors, with their knowledge and enthusiasm.
First published in December 2002 in The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 22.
Author: Dr Sylvia Pinches
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer