The Bowes Museum > Collection > Library & Archive > Reference Library

Reference Library

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.

Click here to view quick contents guide.

Opening Dates & Times

Wednesday 18 March 1.15 - 4.00 
 Thursday 19 March 10.15 - 4.00 
 Tuesday 24 March 10.15 - 4.00 
 Wednesday 25 March 10.15 - 1.00 
 Wednesday 1 April 1.15 - 4.00 
 Thursday 2 April 10.15 - 4.00 
 Tuesday 7 April 10.15 - 4.00 
 Wednesday 8 April 10.15 - 1.00 
 Wednesday 15 April  1.15 - 4.00
 Thursday 16 April  10.15 - 4.00
Tuesday 21 April 10.15 - 4.00
Wednesday 22 April 10.15 - 1.00
Wednesday 29 April 1.15 - 4.00
Thursday 30 April 10.15 - 4.00

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.