Great Britain

Trowel laid Bowes Museum foundation stone 150 year ago

Today' Object of the Week is linked to the launch of one the North-East’s most imposing museums. Last week marked the 150th anniversary of the laying of The Bowes Museum’s foundation stone.

ON November 27, 1869, Joséphine Bowes, one of the museum’s founders, started the project that would become The Bowes Museum, as she manipulated the stone and said: “I lay the first stone and you, Mr Bowes, will lay the top stone.”

The ceremony was supposed to have taken place on Tuesday, November 16 but Joséphine had badly sprained her foot and so it was delayed until she was strong enough to take part.

According to Joseph Kyle, the museum’s builder, there were only five people present.

They were Mr and Mrs Bowes, J E Watson the architect, Ralph Dent the estate agent and Kyle himself.

The occasion went unreported in the local press.

Joséphine used a triangular shaped silver flat trowel with an upward curving shaft for the handle, which is ivory carved in the form of a twisted rope.

The head is decorated with a border of interlocking formal flower heads and engraved with the following inscription: “On Saturday, the twenty-seventh of November, Anno Domini 1869. This trowel was used by Joséphine Benoite, Countess of Montalbo, wife of John Bowes of Streatlam Castle Esq’re of Newcastle on Tyne.”

Visitors can view the trowel in the John and Joséphine Story Galleries on the first floor of the museum, alongside a brass plaque that was inscribed to go on top of the stone on the original date of the ceremony.

Documents held by Durham County Records Office show celebrations took place in the Kings Head in Barnard Castle, where beer, four bottles of champagne, spirits and lunch were consumed, coming to a total of £4.4s.

It also houses an invoice for the trowel, a mallet and a leveller, which shows a payment of £11.17s.10d.

Sadly neither Joséphine nor John saw the museum completed. Joséphine died in February 1874 and John in October 1885.

The museum opened to the public on June 10, 1892.

It is open from 10am to 5pm daily, only closed on December 25 and 26 andJanuary 1.

For more information about the museum’s exhibitions and events programme please see the website

* Object of the Week appears in The Northern Echo every Saturday. If you have an object you think could feature, contact Andrew White on 01325-505054, or email [email protected]

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