The North’s Museum of Art, Fashion & Design
Housing outstanding collections of European fine and decorative art
Park & Gardens
Groups & Coaches
Meet and Celebrate
Jobs & Volunteering
Explore The Collection
Research & Scholarship
Library & Archive
Families & Young People
How Your Support Helps
Friends of The Bowes Museum
The Friends' Committee
History of the Friends
Schedule of Events
Silver Swan Automaton Visit Science Museum
The much loved Silver Swan automaton - the emblem of The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle - is to migrate to the Science Museum in London.
The unique, life-size musical automaton will make the journey south in the New Year, where it will take its place as one of the star attractions in the Science Museum’s 2017 blockbuster exhibition,
It will be the first time this culturally important artefact has left The Bowes Museum since its purchase in 1872 by the Museum founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, who paid 5,000 francs (£200) for it. They had earlier seen it at the Paris Exhibition of 1867, where it was also viewed by American author Mark Twain, who later described it in his novel
The Innocents Abroad
Dating from around 1773, the Swan is the only one of its kind in the world, its performances having enchanted audiences through a span of four different centuries. It was first recorded in 1774 as a crowd puller in the Mechanical Museum of James Cox, a London showman and dealer. Its internal workings – controlled by three separate clockwork mechanisms – are attributed to John-Joseph Merlin, the Belgian horologist and famous inventor of the time who, amongst other things, gave the world the rollerskate.
Accompanying the Swan south will be Matthew Read, who will be overseeing the move along with The Bowes Museum’s Object Conservator, Karen Barker. Matthew is Conservation of Clocks Programme Leader at West Dean College in Sussex, and the only Institute of Conservation (ICON) Accredited Conservator in the UK currently teaching horology.
In 2008 he and Karen worked together in full view of the public on a major, award winning, conservation project of the Silver Swan which made headlines around the world.
Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “The Swan is an internationally recognized icon of The Bowes Museum, like the Canaletto’s or the El Greco, and we’re delighted that visitors to the Science Museum will, for a short period, be able to see its captivating performance.”
The Museum’s Head of Collections, Jane Whittaker, echoed his thoughts, saying: “This is a wonderful opportunity to show the Silver Swan in an entirely different context in the Science Museum’s exhibition; it will give those who see it pause for reflection on the sheer scale of achievement in its design and workmanship and on what it says about the time of its creation in the late eighteenth century – literally astonishing!. .. . .”
Ben Russell, Lead Curator of the Science Museum’s Robots exhibition said: ‘We are thrilled that the Silver Swan - one of the greatest 18th-century automatons - will be part of our
exhibition. The Swan is an amazing evocation of life, and makes us reflect on our endless fascination with replicating living things in mechanical form.’
opens at the Science Museum from 8 February to 3 September 2017, before touring the UK and internationally until 2022. The Silver Swan will be on public display in the Robots exhibition for six weeks, from 8 February until 23 March 2017. The Swan will go back on show at The Bowes Museum in time for Easter and the commencement of the Museum’s 125th anniversary celebrations which begin in June 2017.
Notes to editors:
How The Silver Swan Works
The swan is life-size and is controlled by three separate clockwork mechanisms. The Silver Swan rests on a stream made of twisted glass rods interspersed with silver fish. When the mechanism is wound up, the glass rods rotate, the music begins, and the Swan twists its head to the left and right and appears to preen its back. It then appears to sight a fish in the water below and bends down to catch it, which it then swallows as the music stops and it resumes its upright position.[WS1]
For more information about the 2017 blockbuster
exhibition at the Science Museum, please visit
The Bowes Museum
The Bowes Museum was created over 100 years ago by an extraordinary couple, John and Joséphine Bowes. Together they built up the greatest private collection of fine and decorative arts in the North of England and constructed a magnificent building to house them in. The collection contains thousands of objects including furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and many other items covering an extensive range of European styles and periods.
· The Bowes Museum receives a core funding grant from Durham County Council and as a Major Portfolio Museum, receives support from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport through the Arts Council England’s Renaissance programme. Additional revenue funding specifically for the Museum’s acclaimed exhibition programme is provided by The John Ellerman Foundation and The Friends of The Bowes Museum.
· The Bowes Museum has recently undergone major redevelopment. This work was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, One NorthEast through the County Durham Economic Partnership, English Heritage, Northern Rock Foundation, The Monument Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, The European Regional Development Fund, DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund, Designation Challenge Fund, The Shears Foundation, The Richard and Suzanna Tonks Family Fund at County Durham Foundation, Durham County Council, The Friends of The Bowes Museum, The Headley Trust, Sir James Knott Trust, Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, Fenwick Ltd, Mercers Charitable Foundation, Welton Foundation.
· Normal admission to the Museum: Adults £10.50, Concessions £9.50, Students £6.00, Six Month Pass £16.00, Carers and children Free (under 16s). Admission allows access to exhibitions, permanent displays and some events. Admissions are donation inclusive and are eligible for Gift Aid. If you do not wish to make a charitable donation or are not a UK taxpayer admission prices are: Adults £9.25, Concessions £8.50, Six Month Pass £14.00, Children (under 16) and carers free.
· The Bowes Museum is a member of the Discover Durham partnership of attractions. Our commitment is to promote Durham as an exciting and vibrant group travel destination and to provide the travel trade with a professional and knowledgeable service: hotline number 0191 301 8531, www.discoverdurham.co.uk
About the Science Museum
As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement. More information can be found at sciencemuseum.org.uk
West Dean College
West Dean College is internationally recognized for excellence in the conservation of historic objects and creative arts education.
Matthew Read is an Accredited Icon Conservator and a Member of the Antiquarian Horological Society Council and has been invited to give the prestigious annual George Daniels Lecture at City University London on 30 November 2016. In Conservation, Craft and Clockmaking, Read will look at some of the many synergies between these elements and how they shape the future of clockmaking. West Dean College offers scholarships and bursaries to talented students.