John Bowes intended the Museum to have a library from the very beginning, as there are bills for book purchases on Museum-related subjects among his papers. He had also inherited John Davidson’s library from his cousin Susan, and these two elements were the initial starting-point for the Museum’s library. Owen Scott, the Curator from 1884 until his death in 1922, added to the library holdings and several books bear his signature. The Museum Trustees, who took over responsibility for the Museum after John’s death in 1885, recognised the importance of having a reference library for the Museum and a local interest library, which included material relating to the Bowes family. They continued to purchase books and accept donations, largely through the recommendations of a Library Committee that functioned for several years.
The reference library holdings fall into four main categories:
- Art reference books from the curatorial collections built up over many years from the Museum’s inception, covering a wide range of subjects and providing background knowledge to the collections held by the Museum and further afield. These are supplemented by runs of art periodicals, such as The Connoisseur, Apollo, The Burlington Magazine and The Art Newspaper, and several publications germane to the museum sector; sale catalogues from Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other dealers; general guides to museums and galleries in Britain and abroad; and guides to exhibitions with particular relevance to the Museum’s holdings.
- Local interest books and pamphlets including history, archaeology, natural history, concentrating on Teesdale but also covering north Yorkshire, County Durham and parts of Cumbria and Northumberland, including an almost complete run of The Surtees Society publications. The library hold copies of The Teesdale Mercury from 1912 and continues to add to this run.
- A general reference library based mainly on an early 19th century ‘gentleman’s library’ that was largely created by John Davidson of Ridley Hall, father-in-law of John Bowes’ cousin Susan who bequeathed it to John. This includes runs of periodicals, such as The Gentleman’s Magazine, The Spectator, Annual Register, The Lady’s Magazine, La Belle Assemblée, Sporting Magazine, Botanical Magazine, The Athenaeum, Naval Chronicle and World of Fashion. Later additions to the general reference holdings include magazines such as Country Life (from about 1950 to 2000), Punch and The Illustrated London News, and a significant section on archaeology including runs of Archaeologia, Archaeologia Aeliana, Durham Archaeological Journal and others.
- John and Joséphine Bowes’ collection of French books including ladies’ magazines, travel guides, museum and gallery guides, theology, literature (including French translations of English novels and poetry) and art history and criticism.
The library also holds material that was mainly acquired as Museum objects:
- Pamphlets relating to the French Revolution
- Early works in several European languages printed from the late 15th century onwards
- Small collection of illuminated late medieval manuscripts, mainly devotional works from northern France and Flanders
- Fine and rare decorated book bindings of the 18th and 19th centuries.
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