W. J. Bassett-Lowke
Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877–1953)
The model engineer, design patron, and local councillor, Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877–1953) grew up, lived and worked in Northampton, England, all of his life; but his business interests and patronage demonstrated a reach far beyond his birthplace.
Bassett-Lowke began his career working for his father, a Northampton agricultural engineer and boilermaker. He was briefly articled to a local architect and served a two-year apprenticeship with an electrical engineer before returning to the family firm. In 1899 at the age of 22 he founded his own mail-order business supplying small steam engines, boilers and components for model engineers. Always open to new ideas, he saw the potential in the German-led production of model trains and railways. By 1909 he was making miniature, passenger-carrying railways to order and selling smaller scale model railways, stationary engines, ships and flying machines. The First World War impacted on this aspect of the business, but production of models and precision parts for armaments for the Government led to a quadrupling of profits.
Bassett-Lowke was interested in modern, progressive ideas and design, and was a founder member of the Design and Industries Association and a member of the Fabian Society. He reputedly declared: 'Have nothing in your home that predates your birth!' As the few surviving letters to Mackintosh and notes on his designs reveal, Bassett-Lowke was a hands-on client, with a close interest in the detail and functionality of the furnishings. 1 He was Mackintosh's most important patron from the professionally sparse years after Glasgow, commissioning the remodelling and furnishing of the principal interiors at his home, 78 Derngate, designs for the furnishing and decoration of his holiday home, Candida Cottage, at Roade, near Northampton, and a series of advertising labels and greeting card designs. 2 He must also have had a supportive role in the commissions Mackintosh received from a number of his business associates and friends. 3
In 1924 the Bassett-Lowkes decided to commission a larger detached house. It seems that Mackintosh was considered but Bassett-Lowke's own accounts of this vary. On the one hand, he wrote that he could not make contact with Mackintosh, who was by then in France; 4 on the other, that Mackintosh's proposed scheme was 'so elaborate and expensive that I could not face the cost.' 5 No evidence of Mackintosh's proposals appears to survive. Whatever the explanation Bassett-Lowke turned instead to the German, Dr Peter Behrens, who designed the strikingly modern and influential 'New Ways', completed in 1926, and within which Mackintosh's Derngate furniture was accommodated.
Bassett-Lowke was active in the life of Northampton, serving as Councillor Chair of Northampton Baths Committee, leading the projects for both a new swimming pool and fire station; he was also a founding member of the Northampton Repertory Theatre. In addition he was an enthusiastic traveller, photographer and author. 6
1: See letters to Mackintosh, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41984, 41985 and 41542; and design for a sideboard and a gramophone cabinet, GLAHA 41667.
2: Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, Moffat, Dumfriesshire: Cameron & Hollis, 4th edn, 2009 pp. 300–4; and for examples of graphic designs, see The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41102, 41133–41135, 41156 and 41844.
3: Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, Moffat, Dumfriesshire: Cameron & Hollis, 4th edn, 2009, pp. 286–92, 300–7.
4: University of Toronto, Robarts Library, Thomas Howarth Collection: W. J. Bassett-Lowke to Thomas Howarth, 24 January 1945, B2000–0002 box 35, file 01.
5: University of Toronto, Robarts Library, Thomas Howarth Collection: W. J. Bassett-Lowke to Thomas Howarth, 24 January 1945, B2000–0002 box 35, file 13.
6: Louise Campbell, 'A Model Patron: Bassett-Lowke, Mackintosh and Behrens', Journal of the Decorative Arts Society, 10, 1986, pp. 1–9; Janet Bassett-Lowke, Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke, Chester: RailRomances, 1999; Perilla Kinchin, 78 Derngate Northampton: Guide Book, Northampton: 78 Derngate Northampton Trust, 2005.