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DateVisit
03 April 2019Rennie Mackintosh House and Delapré Abbey
28 February 2019Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
27 September 2018King's Lynn Guided Town Walk
02 May 2018Visit to The Polar Museum and The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
07 February 2018The Russian Season: Royal Faberge and Radical Russia
01 November 2017Visit to the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art at Newmarket
07 June 2017Tony Tucker Walk - Alleyways of the City of London
05 April 2017Burghley House
03 December 2016Concert at Holkham Hall
23 September 2016Gainsborough's House, Sudbury and Little Hall Museum, Lavenham
03 September 2016Theatre Visit
18 May 2016Boughton House near Kettering
21 April 2016 Four Norfolk Churches with John Vigar
13 April 2016Theatre Visit
06 April 2016Monet to Matisse Royal Academy Exhibition: Painting the Modern Garden:
23 October 2015Theatre Visit
17 September 2015Bletchley Park
30 June 2015'Francis Bacon and The Masters'
11 June 2015London - A Riverside Walk with Tony Tucker (City of London Guide)
04 June 2015Audley End and Saffron Walden (Fry Gallery and Bridge End Gardens)
19 March 2015St Albans Abbey, Verulamium Museum and The Roman Theatre
06 December 2014Christmas Theatre Performance
24 April 2014London Churches and Hidden Gardens with Tony Tucker (City of London Guide)
06 February 2014 'Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia'
25 September 2013Doddington Hall (nr. Lincoln)
02 July 2013'Houghton Revisited'
19 October 2012St Nicholas Chapel and Trues Yard (King's Lynn)

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Rennie Mackintosh House and Delapré Abbey
Wednesday 03 April 2019

The visit followed February's lecture on Rennie Mackintosh.  

A Grand Day Out

The trip to Delapré Abbey and 78 Derngate in Northampton on 3 April was most enjoyable and informative.  In order to accommodate the numbers it was organised so that half went to one venue in the morning and then after lunch the groups changed round.  The arrangements ran like clockwork.

Delapré Abbey owes its name to the Abbey of St Mary de la Pré founded on the site some 900 years ago.  However in 1538 the community of Cluniac nuns was expelled on the orders of Henry Vlll and the buildings fell into disrepair.  The estate came into the hands of the Tate family and the remains of the abbey were swept away as they created, over some 200 years, most of the buildings that exist today.  In 1749 the Tate family connection came to an end when the only heir, Mary, died soon after her marriage to Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, who was responsible for building the Stable Block.  

In 1764 the house was sold to Edward Bouverie for £22,000 and for another 200 years the estate, which became known as Delapré Abbey, was in the hands of the Bouverie family.  When Mary Bouverie died in 1943 the house and many acres of land were bought by the local council but were sadly neglected.  A proposal to demolish the buildings in 1954 was only dropped after a successful campaign by a group led by Miss Joan Wake.   For some forty years the house became the Northamptonshire Record Office but when this was moved to new premises in the late 1990s the future of the buildings was again in doubt.  The Friends of Delapré Abbey led a campaign to restore the buildings so as to create a venue to be enjoyed by local people and visitors to the area.  After some years, the Delapré Preservation Trust, supported by Northampton County Council, was successful in gaining a £3.65m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out restoration work on part of the buildings and this was completed in 2018.

Rooms in the stable block and the main house are open to the public and displays tell the story not only of the house and estate but also of significant other historical events.  Nearby is one of the four remaining Eleanor Crosses built by Edward l after the death of his wife, Eleanor of Castile.  An important battle also took place on the doorstep of the Abbey -  in 1460 Henry Vl was defeated at the Battle of Northampton by Richard of York and taken prisoner.

The Grade 2* listed Georgian house at 78 Derngate is tall and narrow.  It was extensively renovated and re-decorated in 1916-17 to plans by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928).  He was employed by the owner W. J. Bassett-Lowke who had been given the house as a wedding present.  The two did not always agree and some aspects are more Bassett-Lowke than Rennie Mackintosh, for example in the use of plastic in some of the decorations.

Externally two balconies were added to give garden views, while internally extensive re-modelling transformed the four-storey house.  It was the first in the town to have electricity and upstairs plumbing.  Two rooms, the entrance hall/lounge and the guest bedroom are typical Rennie Mackintosh in style.  The former involved two separate units being merged and the stairs re-located.  Geometric shapes, especially squares and triangles, predominate, as does the colour yellow which the partially colour-blind owner could see well.  Our group’s opinion was divided but most liked the unusual grid of black squares rising up the stairs and the beautiful stained glass.  The bedroom has striking black and white floor-to-ceiling stripes behind the beds.  Some of us liked them but others shared the disapproval expressed by George Bernard Shaw.  However the turquoise-coloured bedspreads and chunky washbasin, with piped hot water, in a recess, were appreciated by everyone.  The bathroom was also ahead of its time with a large free-standing bath, large shower head and wallpaper with a tiny tile pattern.  The remaining rooms show less influence of Rennie Mackintosh.

In 1926 Bassett-Lowkes moved to New Ways, close to Abbington Park in Northampton, a pioneering modernist house with much more space.  78 Derngate had a chequered history subsequently and for a time was used by Northampton Girls’ High School.  By 2002 it was in a bad state of disrepair and the local council started a programme of restoration using the many photographs taken during the Bassett-Lowkes period as a guide.  Some decorations have been removed to reveal the original; in other rooms original patterns have been re-created.  Similarly some of the furniture is original; some has been remade.

At Delapré Abbey there was an informative introduction to the visit using a power point presentation while at 78 Derngate we viewed a DVD in which Eric Knowles talked about the features we would see on the visit.  At both venues the groups had knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides.  There was also for those who visited 78 Derngate in the afternoon the pleasure of tea and cake in the café at number 82 which together with number 80 is part of the visitor centre. 

Elaine Robinson and Elke Hellman are to be congratulated on their excellent planning of the trip and the way they adjusted the timings of the visits to take account of transport delays.  There was total unanimity about the success and enjoyment of the day.

Elizabeth and Michael Walker