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The Bowes Museum

Named after its founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, The Bowes Museum, a Grade 1 listed French-style château in the historic, picturesque market town of Barnard Castle, is one of the most important museums outside London.

Full of wonderful treasures, at every turn there are significant and precious works from around Europe, including paintings by El Greco and Goya – the only works by these artists outside the national collections in London and Edinburgh.

Furniture, ceramics and sculpture are also well represented, and the collections have received Designated status from the government in recognition of their significance.

While the magnificent legacy that John and Joséphine Bowes left has been cared for to retain its charm and romance, a sympathetic change has taken place which allows for a greater part of the collections to be displayed to best advantage.

The Bowes Museum is also home to the extraordinary Silver Swan, a lifesize 244-year-old musical automaton housed adjacent to a stunning gallery dedicated to the Museum’s silver and precious metal objects.

The Bowes Museum, Café Bowes and shop are open daily from 10am.

The Building

John and Joséphine decided to build a museum to house their extensive collections of European fine and decorative art. They chose Barnard Castle as the nearest town to Streatlam Castle, John’s main residence in England. The French architect Jules Pellechet, who had worked for them in France, designed the building, although alterations were made later.

The French style architecture is thought to be based on that of the town hall in Le Havre.

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Le Havre – Ancien Hôtel de Ville, détruit lors des bombardements alliés en 1944
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Le Havre – Ancien Hôtel de Ville, détruit lors des bombardements alliés en 1944

A local architect and builder, J.E. Watson of Newcastle and Joseph Kyle, were employed to carry through the construction work. Many of the workers, and some of the suppliers, were local people.

Joséphine’s death in 1874, less than five years after she laid the foundation stone, coupled with John’s financial problems, meant that the Museum was still not complete when John died in 1885. Responsibility for finishing the work fell to the Trustees appointed under the wills of Joséphine and John. The Museum opened to the public in 1892.

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The magnificent French style chateau took 23 years to complete. It is French both in architectural design and inspiration in contrast with contemporary English museums which followed classical designs. The building was designed with the collaboration of two architects, Jules Pellechet from France and John Edward Watson of Newcastle. The Bowes Museum was the first building in the country to be designed in metric rather than imperial. Stone was quarried at the nearby Bowes estate at Streatlam.

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