'Looking West along the Road' is my first plein air painting of 2014. It was painted on a cold overcast Sunday in late January and took all my resolve to venture out. The day was finished off however by a roaring fire in a local pub.
Looking West along the Road, Oil on Canvas 40cm x 56cm
Post published by Tomas King 24-1-2014


It must have been 1966 when as a young man of 19 years I first walked through the front door of 78 Derngate, Northampton. It was the height of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ I had been living in London when my ex-boss contacted me. He had set up in business on his own and needed help, ‘would I join him’? It was very early days for his new venture and the premises turned out to be an attic room in a row of terraced houses built c.1815-20. I had never heard of Charles Rennie Mackintosh but I knew when I walked through the front door on the first morning that, on the inside, this was no ordinary building.

 At the time the property was owned by Northampton School for Girls who had leased it to Ken Ward Publicity and my employer had rented the attic room from them. It was a tiny space, just room for the two of us but we worked very long hours there, often all over the weekend and on several occasions all through the night. It seems remarkable to me now that I had a key to the building and walked freely through that famous front door as often as I wanted. I can still

remember all these years later the feeling of

passing the famous screen on the right in the hall (in reality an oblong room) and working my way up the narrow stairs behind it to the room at the very top. My employer was a big cricket fan and in the summer we would pass the days side by side working on our individual design projects directly under the roof and the summer heat listening to the slow leisurely cricket commentary on a small portable radio little knowing that we were perched at the very top of a major piece of design history. The kettle was in the basement so frequent trips were made every day from the top of the building to the bottom and back up again but it was always a joy to walk through the fabric of one of the greatest Architects, designers and painters of the twentieth century.

The building had been purchased by the father of Wenman Basset-Lowke in 1916 as a gift for his sons impending wedding. The Bassett-Lowke’s were an enlightened and well connected family and it was Wenman who commissioned Mackintosh to restyle the interior at this time. What emerged was a tour de force reflecting Mackintosh’s very individual style.

He was truly a man of great vision who perceived the world in a different way. Architect, designer and painter (Dali considered him the greatest painter of the day) but as with many great men, the hand that had sowed the seed of genius also sowed the seed of self destruction and as time passed the germination of the latter would be his undoing.    

During the time I worked at 78 Derngate my head was full of pop music, girls and fashion and I did not take the time to saviour what was around me but the building left a remarkable impression and Charles Rennie Mackintosh would became a big influence on me. It was at 78 Derngate that I met a very pretty young girl who would become my wife and many years later while living in France we made a pilgrimage to Collioure in the hope of finding some reference to the great man. He had spent the last years of his life in Port Vendre, painting watercolours of the harbour there and at Collioure nearby. Despite the fact that the walls of Collioure were festooned with images of the Impressionist’s and the Fauvist's, we found no reference to Mackintosh and I returned home with only my memories.  

78 Derngate is now a museum open to the public and  in 2009 it won the best small museum award. There are countless books on Mackintosh most of which feature detailed reference to 78 Derngate. Photos from the top down:
1.House number set in light above the front door.
2.The front of the building constructed c.1815-20
3.The front door with typical Mackintosh window patterns.
4.Detail of glass panel in the centre of the front door.
5.Mr and Mrs Bassett-Lowke on the steps of 78 Derngate about 1917.
6.The spare bedroom. This was all in place when I worked there.
7.Design for a stencilled wall decoration in the hall.
8.Design for the hall screen.
9.The hall screen.
10. The fireplace in the hall.
11. Domino clock design for 78 Derngate.     

Post published by Tomas King 3 - 1 - 2013