History Of The Archive

John Bowes was a meticulous record keeper.  He annotated the letters he received, he annotated the bills he paid, and he stored them carefully in annual bundles.  He kept separate, as far as possible, the records of his life with Joséphine in France from records relating to estate matters that he regarded as part of the continuing archive of the Strathmore estate in Durham and Yorkshire.  The archive in the Museum refers mainly to expenditure for the various French houses he and Joséphine occupied, to his decade of involvement in management of the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris, correspondence with friends and employees in France and England, and bills and correspondence with dealers in France and other European countries that show how he and Joséphine put together their collection. See Quick Contents Guide.

It is not entirely clear how and when the archive was brought into the Museum.  Owen Scott, Museum Curator from 1884 to 1922, organised the transport of many objects from Paris and from storage in Streatlam Castle during John’s last years and after his death, and the records may have moved then.  There are references in the Curator’s correspondence and reports in the 1920s that imply the acquisition of some records after the death of Ralph John Dent in 1918. Dent, and his father before him, had acted as steward for John’s estates at Streatlam and Gibside, and the records referred to are probably the fifty or so annual bundles of correspondence from John to the Dents and his solicitors.

Over the years, the original order of the archive has been disturbed and it has not always been possible to recover the original order.  The catalogue reflects this by including references to box and folder numbers for previous storage of archives. See Search the Database.
On John’s death in 1885, responsibility for completing the Museum building and running the Museum devolved on the Board of Trustees.  The Trustees and Curators (and other staff) have maintained the administrative records of the Museum from 1885.  Quick Contents guide.   The Museum’s records, which are still being created, are catalogued to series level and, in some cases, to item level.  Search the Database.

As part of a major refurbishment and redevelopment of the Museum, a purpose-built strongroom and Reading Room were created for the Reference Library and Archive.  The John Eccles Reading Room was officially opened in 2010 for use by staff and members of the public. Link to homepage and to User Resources.

The Strathmore Estate Archive (ref. D/St) and The Bowes Museum archive (ref. D/Bo) at Durham County Record Office include some records relating to John Bowes and the Museum www.durhamrecordoffice.org.uk

For further information about the history of John and Joséphine Bowes and the Museum and the development of the library and archive, see:

John and Joséphine Bowes and The Bowes Museum by Charles Hardy (1970, reprinted 1989)

John & Joséphine: The Creation of The Bowes Museum by Caroline Chapman (2010)

The Bowes Museum by Elizabeth Conran, Bryan Crossling, Howard Coutts, Joanna Hashagen and Sarah Medlam (Scala publication 1992)

Click here to return to the Explore the Archive page.