The Bowes Museum > About > Our History > John & Joséphine Bowes

John & Joséphine Bowes


John and Joséphine Bowes founded The Bowes Museum. John, the son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore, was born at No 13 South Street, Chelsea, London. His mother was a commoner, Mary Millner, who caught the Earl's eye when she worked on his Teesdale estate and ended up living with the Earl to all intents as his wife for many years. The Earl married her just 16 hours before his death in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his son’s succession. Two very long court cases ensued, finally settling the Durham estates on John, but not recognising him as the legitimate heir to the Strathmore title.

John was educated at Eton and became a very successful businessman who invested heavily in the coal reserves on his land and bred four Derby winners. From 1847 he spent his time between France and England.

Joséphine Bowes was born in 1825. She was a French actress in the Théâtre des Variétés, Paris, owned by John Bowes between 1848 and 1852. She shared John’s love of the arts and they married in 1852.

Information about reopening


We are delighted the Prime Minister has announced that museums can reopen this summer. We understand you are excited at the prospect of visiting The Bowes Museum and would like to assure you we have been developing plans to welcome you back into our beautiful building by late August; we are working on vital social distancing measures so you, staff and volunteers can be confident of a safe environment which everyone can enjoy.

We take pride in offering a relaxed and enjoyable day out for all the family, and with that in mind we are extending the Museum passes we have issued in the last year. Our exceptional Norman Cornish exhibition will continue until Autumn 2020 and we are planning to release details of a packed events programme, including the Christmas Market, over the coming weeks.

In the meantime the grounds of The Bowes Museum are open to be enjoyed by walkers and cyclists, in line with the government guidance on COVID-19. The parkland can be accessed through the front pedestrian gates between 10.30-4.45 daily. We would like to thank everyone for their continued support and understanding, and ask people to respect social distancing guidelines when they visit.

You can keep up to date with developments, including our reopening date here or on our Facebook and Twitter.