Posted by: marymarthatours | November 14, 2011

The Bowes Museum

Serendipity has been at work again with the upcoming M&M “England in Miniature” Tour. I needed to find a good mid-morning stopping place for the day that we travel from Penrith in the Lake District to York. And with a little help from “Sara N. Dipity”, I’ve found the perfect location for the group to visit that morning.


The Bowes Museum, Castle Barnard

The Bowes Museum in Castle Barnard, Co. Durham, looks like someone picked up a huge French chateau along the Loire and set it down again in a little town in northern England. And in a way, that’s just what happened.

John and Josephine (Benoit) Bowes had a love of all things French. John’s first French love was Josephine. He had inherited his father’s Durham estates, but, as an illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore, was prevented from inheriting the title. Perhaps it was the issue of his illegitimacy that led John to leave England for France in 1847. There he became part-owner of a Paris theatre and fell in love with Josephine, an actress with a passion for painting and collecting.

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John and Josephine Bowes

After their marriage, John and Josephine lived for a while at the Chateau du Barry, near Paris, where they began acquiring the art, furniture, textiles and ceramics that became the foundation of the collection at the Bowes Museum.

Having returned to John’s home area of County Durham, the couple decided to build a museum to house their growing collection and to provide access to fine art for the local population. They hired a French architect, Jules Pellechet, who with his English colleague, John Edward Watson, designed the huge French chateau style building which was set in intricately landscaped grounds.


Josephine laid the foundation stone for the building in 1869. Collecting for the galleries continued at a furious pace until Josephine died in 1874. After that, John gave up collecting and died in 1885, but the work on the building continued. It was opened to the public in 1892 and continues to this day as one of the preeminent museums of decorative arts in Britain.

Our group will enjoy a guided tour of the Museum when we visit in September 2012, and then we’ll have some free time to explore areas of special interest. It will be hard to decide what to see first. I might head for the first floor gallery of English Interiors from 1500-1900. Miniaturists may seek out the gallery on the ground floor that houses a collection of toys. Hopefully, one or more of the museum’s dolls houses will be on display.


Dolls House, built c.1927

I’ll bet that Martha will head for the Archeology collection, although she might choose to make the new Fashion & Textile Gallery her goal. There she can see the permanent display of apparel from the 18th to 20th centuries with many of the dresses mounted on invisible mannequins for great viewing. Or, she might want to visit the “Glass Cube” in the center of the gallery which houses the collection of embroidery, lace, and quilts.

One very special exhibit that we will all want to see is the Silver Swan, an amazing English automaton that is over 200 years old and still works. Unfortunately, we will not be able to stay for the afternoon viewing of the Swan in motion, but here is a video of it in action. Watch for it to catch and eat one of the silver fish swimming in the pond.



I think the Bowes Museum will be a hit for everyone on the tour, and I can’t wait to visit there.

(by Mary)

All photos from the Bowes Museum website and used by permission.


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