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Top 20 Archive Documents

1 Bowes family tree (ref. Acc.2010/4)

The family tree was drawn up in 1789 and originally included only the children of Mary Eleanor Bowes by her first husband, the 9th Earl of Strathmore.  Later, her children by her second husband, the notorious Andrew Stoney Robinson, were included.  Details of marriages and deaths up to 1832 were also added for the children.  The family tree is beautifully drawn and illuminated with coats of arms. Read More

2 Bill from Worth, couturiers of Paris, 1872 (ref. JB/3/3/20)

Although English, Worth was a leading fashion couturier in Paris in the 1860s and 1870s, patronised by the Empress Eugénie.  Joséphine spent over 11,000 francs on this occasion (the exchange rate was 25 francs to £1), one of several large bills from Worth. 
She also bought from other dressmakers and specialist shops for accessories. Read More

3 Photograph of early picture gallery, [1890-1900s] (ref. TBM/11/2)

The Museum opened to the public in 1892.  Following the fashion of the day, the gallery walls and screens were covered with paintings – almost the whole collection was on display.   You will recognise many of the paintings on display now in the Picture Galleries but it must have been difficult then to see paintings comfortably.  You can see an attendant on duty at the far arch and there is a stove in the far wall – these were in use until 1906. Read More

4 Catalogue of paintings, 1878 (ref. TBM/8)

John Bowes wrote this catalogue of paintings as he was gathering together information about the collection after Joséphine’s death in 1874.  He gave each painting a catalogue number and described it, giving title, artist or school, date and description.  Here John describes paintings by Goya that he acquired through the dealer Benjamin Gogué when the collection of the Conde de Quinto was sold in Paris in the early 1860s.  John and Joséphine bought over sixty paintings, the basis of the largest collection of Spanish paintings in England outside London at the time.  Read More

5 Bills

Bill for lights, 1869 (ref. JB/3/3/17)
The annual bundles of bills, from the 1850s to the 1880s, contain thousands of documents that give an amazing insight into living in Paris at the time.  The bills cover utilities, food and drink, servants’ wages, clothing, purchases of household goods and equipment, entertainment and recreation.  This bill - for lighting in their town house in Paris at 7 rue de Berlin – is one of many that has a lovely illustrated billhead. 

Bill for Monbro fils aîné, 1854 (ref. JB/4/6)
Monbro fils aîné was a famous interior decorating firm in Paris, used extensively by John and Joséphine for decorating the Château du Barry at Louveciennes and their Paris town house. Most of the supervision work for these projects was entrusted to the father and son architects Auguste and Jules Pellechet. They scrutinised the bills and then, using red ink, made amendments and marked them for payment. The Château at Louveciennes was John’s wedding present to Joséphine in 1852. It was sold in 1860 and the money was used for building the Museum.  Read More

6 Play performed at the Théâtre des Variétés, Paris, 1849 (ref. JB/7/12)

This copy of ‘La Reine d’Yvetot’ is inscribed by the authors to Mademoiselle Delorme, Joséphine’s stagename.  There are copies of several plays, many with Joséphine in the list of actors and some inscribed to her, in the archive, although Joséphine did not perform in public after her marriage in 1852.  John took a financial interest in the theatre from 1848 until he sold it in 1855.  It was never a financial success for him – in fact, it caused him difficulties, as the other theatre records and his letters show. Read More

7 Museum Trustees’ minute book, 1886-1906 (ref. TBM/1/1/1/1)

After John’s death in 1885, the Trustees took over responsibility for completing building work and running the Museum which opened in 1892.  Trustees represented political, social and artistic interests as well as, eventually, locally-elected Trustees.  The minute books record the difficulties the Trustees had to overcome in the early days and their successes.  They also include the names and acceptance signatures of Trustees. Read More

8 Election poster for John Bowes, 1837 (ref. JB/1/3)

John Bowes was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for South Durham in 1832 in the first election following the Reform Act.  He continued as MP until 1847 when he declined to stand again.  His letters show that he did not always follow the party line and was concerned when local interests were threatened.  Through his step-father, William Hutt, MP for Hull and then for Gateshead, John maintained political connections. The writer William Thackeray, whom John knew from their time at Cambridge, came north to help John with his election campaign in 1841.  The
experience led to Thackeray writing a spoof report – Notes on the North What-d’ye-Callem Election.  Being the Personal Narrative of Napoleon Putnam Wiggins, of Passimaquoddy – and his first successful novel, Barry Lyndon, based partly on the story of John’s grandmother Mary Eleanor Bowes’ disastrous second marriage. Read More

9 Drawings by John Bowes, c.1836 (ref. JB/1/2/6)

At school at Eton, aged 15, John had to write verses in Latin as part of his schoolwork but these drawings (or doodles) demonstrate that he didn’t always concentrate on the work.  John’s father, the 10th Earl of Strathmore, had ensured that his son had a gentleman’s education.  From the age of six, John had been educated in a private school run by a clergyman and his wife, and he can’t have disliked it as he kept in touch with them for many years.  After Eton he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. Read More

10 Plan of the Theatre des Variétés, Paris, 19th century (ref. JB/7/16/1)

This plan shows how the theatre was fitted behind a narrow frontage on the Boulevard Montmartre.  The fashionable Café des Variétés stood alongside it.  The theatre features in guides to Paris in the mid-19th century when it is said to have specialised in light entertainment.  The plays in the archive (ref. JB/7/12) would seem to bear this out, as does the description of the theatre in the nearly-contemporaneous novel ‘Nana’ by Emile Zola.  The theatre is the oldest surviving theatre in Paris. Read More

11 Note from Felix Samper in Spanish about the Silver Swan, [c.1870] (ref. JB/6/5)

After Josephine’s death in 1874, John was increasingly concerned about recording information about the objects he was sending to England for eventual display in the Museum.  He wrote about bringing together all he knows about the Silver Swan – notes in French and English on setting it up and note in Spanish about its history – as he is afraid no-one else will know what to do. Read More

12 Hand-painted card, 1875 (ref. JB/8/5)

Joséphine died in February 1874 and her funeral was held in the church of Ste. Trinité, Paris.  Following French custom, her coffin remained at the church for a year and then an anniversary service was held.  This card was probably sent to John by one of Joséphine’s circle of female friends to mark the anniversary.  The coffin was then taken to the chapel at Gibside, another Bowes property in County Durham, while a memorial chapel was to be built in the Museum grounds.  The chapel was not completed before John’s death in 1885.  Eventually the Trustees and the Roman Catholic diocese of Hexham exchanged land and the Bowes Memorial Church was consecrated in 1928, when the coffins of John and Joséphine were interred just outside the church.   Read More

13 Ticket for Paris Salon, 1869 (ref. JB/8/3/2/2)

Joséphine exhibited at the annual Paris Salons from 1867 to 1870, as well as the Royal Academy in London in 1868.  This ticket was issued to Joséphine as an exhibitor – her painting that year was ‘Sunset scene in Normandy’ and it is one of several by Joséphine on display in the Museum.  Her signature on the ticket is one of the few surviving examples of her handwriting. Read More

14 Letter from the Gallé firm of Nancy, 1871 (ref. JB/5/6)

At the International Exhibition held in London in 1871, Joséphine bought and commissioned items from the firm of Gallé.  The correspondence
between Gallé and Joséphine shows how delighted he was that their material was to be on display in the Museum.  The area around Nancy had suffered in the Franco-Prussian War, so it was particularly important to have commissions to encourage a revival of the industry.  The firm of Gallé became famous Art Nouveau glass and furniture makers. Read More

15 Bill from A.C. Lamer, 1864 (ref. JB/5/10/2)

In the 1860s, the scale of collecting increased and John and Joséphine increasingly relied on advice from a range of dealers in Paris and during their European travels.  Lamer was one of their Paris-based dealers - attending auctions, acting as middleman with artists, recommending purchases – for nearly a decade.  The handwriting on the bills and accompanying letters can be challenging. Read More

16 Photographs of John Bowes and his wives Joséphine and Alphonsine (ref. TBM/11/7)

In the 1920s, the Museum’s Curator started a photographic survey of Teesdale and district.  Images were pasted onto card with information about provenance.  These photographs are recorded as coming from Miss Dent whose family had had a close association with the Bowes family.  The three images are of Joséphine Bowes, John’s first wife who died in 1874; John Bowes (1811-1885); and Alphonsine, Comtesse de Courten, John Bowes’ second wife, who outlived him. Read More

17 Letter from Joséphine to John, 1867 (ref. JB/2/3/1)

This is the only surviving letter from Joséphine.  It was written from a hotel in Calais as Joséphine waited to cross the Channel to England.  Joséphine was a notoriously bad sailor, so she frequently waited weeks until calm weather coincided with her feeling well enough to sail.  Several of her paintings are seascapes, probably done during these waiting periods.  Joséphine addresses John as ‘Papa’, a not-unusual form of endearment at the time, particularly as she was several years younger than him.  Her nickname between them was ‘Puss’.  Read More

18 Letter from Paris, 1871 (ref. JB/8/1/7/31)

John and Joséphine were in England during the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune (1870-1871).  There are over 40 letters from their Parisian housekeeper and friends during the period, recording the slow slide into war and the privations suffered during the Siege of Paris, the rising known as the Paris Commune and its suppression.  Food was scarce, it was difficult to get money, soldiers were to be billeted on them, the paintings in the Temporary Gallery were threatened by shelling and the aftermath of the Commune was likely to be nasty. Read More

19 Architect’s drawing of Museum, (1870s-1880) (ref. JB/6/3)

The architect Jules Pellechet had worked for John and Joséphine in France.  He drew up plans for the Museum in the French fashion of municipal museums – the ‘petit Louvre’ style.  Gallé called the Museum ‘your Tuileries’, referring to another French royal palace.  Pellechet made several visits to Barnard Castle to supervise construction work including specialist parquet flooring work by French workmen.  After John’s death responsibility for completing the Museum was taken over by J.E. Watson, a Newcastle-based architect, who made some alterations to Pellechet’s designs.  Read More

20 Wills of Joséphine (1871) and John Bowes (1878), (ref. TBM/2/1/1-2)

Under the wills of Joséphine and John Bowes, Trustees were appointed to look after the Museum and collections and let the public see and enjoy them.  Trustees continued to manage the Museum until Durham County Council took over responsibility in 1956.  A new Board of Trustees was appointed in 2000 to run the Museum.  Joséphine’s concerns about ensuring proper ownership and administration of the Museum led to the Public Parks, Schools and Museums Act in 1871, which benefitted other institutions over the following decades.  

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The Bowes Museum is looking forward to welcoming you on the 17 May

Staff have been busy behind the Museum’s closed doors getting everything ready to welcome visitors back safely.

Café Bowes has undergone a refurbishment and has a new menu waiting to be sampled, the Museum has been deep cleaned, new signage is in place reminding you to adhere to social distancing, hand sanitisation stations have been refilled, the shop has been restocked and staff are being trained ready to greet you back in a safe and timely manner.

North Country Quilts: In Celebration of New Acquisitions is now hanging in the main exhibition gallery ready to wow visitors through to January 2022 and, due to social distancing measures, entry to the display will be by a separate timed exhibition entrance ticket that needs to be booked, at no extra cost, before visiting. Song has also been reinstated in the Music Room so people can enjoy the sound of the instruments. A varied programme of activity is being planned throughout May and June which we hope you will participate in.

Entry to the Museum will be by timed slots and tickets will have to be pre-booked online here or by calling 01833 690606. The Museum will be open from 10.00 to 5.00 daily. Masks will need to be worn throughout the Museum, shop and café, except when eating or where exemptions apply.

We look forward to welcoming you back soon!