The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2015 > Horses & Hunting

Horses & Hunting


16 March 2014 - May 2015

A fascinating display on Victorian hunting, horse breeding and racing, assembled by volunteers from the Archive and Library.

The hunting section marked the 150th anniversary of the deaths of Robert Smith Surtees, the hunting novelist, and his illustrator, John Leech.  Surtees was a lawyer and Durham squire whose rough, tough comic novels set in the world of crooked horse dealers, rascally servants, and city girls on the search for moneyed country bumpkins were enormously popular with the Victorian public. They include such memorable titles as Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities and Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour. Their success was at least as much owing to the wonderful illustrations – many of them in colour – by John Leech as to the stories themselves. Leech was famous as a frequent contributor of comic scenes of everyday life and political cartoons to Punch, but also illustrated Dickens and many other writers of the day.


The rest of the exhibition was devoted to the Museum’s founder John Bowes and his passion for the turf.  His Streatlam Stud produced many famous horses, including four Derby winners.  One of them, West Australian, only raced three times in a single year and won each time. He thus became the first horse ever to win the Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and St Leger).


Bowes was a well-known figure in racing circles, both in England and France, where he was a leading member of the Jockey Club.  It was not all plain sailing, however! – his name was linked with a famous betting scandal, the story of which was told in the display.

The Bowes Museum grounds are open!


Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Café Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.