Three historical figures have been chosen by the public to be celebrated in a steel artwork along the River Nene in Northampton.
Poet John Clare, engineer Wenman Bassett-Lowke and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh received the largest amount of votes in the project set up by Sustrans, the charity enabling people to make more of their every day journeys by foot, bike and public transport. Sustrans is one of the largest commissioners of public art in the UK.
Images of the trio will now be transformed into a life size portrait bench which will be situated on a beauty spot along Sustrans’ Connect2 cycle route which runs from Becket’s Park towards Upton.
The artwork, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, will be made from naturally weathering steel and is one of 80 benches planned in the UK. Each of the schemes will represent notable figures that reflect the local culture, history and heritage.
The three Northampton figures were selected from a shortlist of six, drawn up by the Connect2 steering group following public nominations.
Ian Richardson, chair of the Connect2 Northampton steering group said: “We are delighted that the people of Northampton have chosen these three fine figures to represent the heritage of the town. Together they embody great art, literature, design and engineering, which continue to flourish in the town today.”
Engineer and councillor Wenman Bassett-Lowke received the greatest number of votes thanks to his commitment to the town during the early 20th century. Bassett-Lowke founded a model train manufacturing company, commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design 78 Derngate and was founder of the Northampton Rotary Club and Northampton Repertory Theatre.
Mike Green, chairman of the Bassett-Lowke Society said: “We are quite delighted that Bassett-Lowke has been voted for by the public. He was a major contributor to both the economic and cultural interests of Northampton and deserves recognition for his contributions. We are pleased to see him get the recognition he deserves.”
Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the interior of 78 Derngate, which is now an award-winning visitor attraction. Mackintosh was famous for his striking art deco style which combined visual impact with high-tech infrastructure and efficient use of space
Rebecca Calcott, house manager of 78 Derngate said: “It is quite extraordinary to think that Charles Rennie Mackintosh should have been commissioned by Northamptonian Bassett-Lowke to re-model his Georgian terraced house. Not only was 78 Derngate Mackintosh’s last major interior design commission and completed work, but his only significant work outside of Scotland.
“The genius of Mackintosh and the modernity of Bassett-Lowke have left a lasting legacy and an important place in Northampton’s history. It is fitting that both men have been voted by the people of Northampton to appear on the portrait bench.”
Nineteenth century poet John Clare, grew up in Northamptonshire village Helpston and is best known for his verses on rural England.
Professor John Goodridge, vice president of the John Clare Society said: “This is great news. John Clare has been described as the ‘people’s poet’ and is an important ecological writer, as well as the best English poet of nature. His descriptions of rural culture and natural history seem more relevant than ever. He is a Northamptonshire writer par excellence, but he also continues to inspire readers from all over the world.”
The bench has now been commissioned and the steering group are currently looking for a suitable location. The bench should be installed by autumn 2011.
Wenman Bassett-Lowke (manufacturer)
Bassett-Lowke founded a model train and ship manufacturing company in Northampton which still operates today under Corgi Classics of Leicester. He was interested in architecture and commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design 78 Derngate. Bassett-Lowke was instrumental in producing a film showing Northampton’s history. He was a founder of the Northampton Rotary Club, founder director of the Northampton Repertory Theatre and worked on the council to help develop the town.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (designer)
Mackintosh was a famous architect and interior designer who was commissioned to renovate 78 Derngate in Northampton in the early 20th century. His other famous commissions include Glasgow School of Art, The Hill House, and the remarkable tea room interiors for Catherine Cranston. He is famous for his striking art deco style which combined visual impact with high-tech infrastructure and efficient use of space. Due to Mackintosh’s work on 78 Derngate the house is now an award-winning visitor attraction.
John Clare (poet)
Poet Clare grew up in the Northamptonshire village of Helpston. In the last 50 years his poetry has been recognised as significant as his peers Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Browning and Tennyson. Clare is known as a poet of rural England and published the remarkable Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. Sadly he ended his life at Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he died in 1864.