The most famous piece, and the emblem of the museum is the Silver Swan, a clockwork automoton dating from 1773. John and Josephine first saw it at the Paris International Exhibition in 1867. Another fan of the swan, who saw it at the same exhibition, was Mark Twain. He wrote in The Innocents Abroad;
'I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes - watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as it he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop - watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it...'We saw that exact same thing last Sunday, almost 150 years after Mark Twain did. The sophisticated 21st century audience still gave a round of applause when the swan swallowed the fish!
There is lots to see in the museum, but we had gone specifically to see two temporary exhibitions; Henry Poole & Co. Founder of Savile Row: The Art of Bespoke Tailoring and Wool Cloth, and Laura Ashley, Romantic Heroine.
Henry Poole & Co. was opened in 1806 and established Savile Row as the centre for bespoke tailoring in London.
Their customers included Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Edward VII. They have their customer ledgers from 1846, and some of them were on view, open at the pages of their famous clients. When Edward VII was Prince of Wales he asked Henry Poole & Co. to cut a short, blue evening coat for him. This garment is said to be the original dinner jacket (tuxedo in the US).
They hold Royal Warrants still, including the Royal Warrant for the Queen's State Livery. The exhibition showed various styles of suits, and also explained the process of making a bespoke garment. There were fabric sample books available so we could feel the wonderful quality of the material used in these garments.
The Laura Ashley exhibition showed, in the company's 60th year, almost 100 examples of Laura Ashley dresses from the 60s and 70s.
them looked quite restrictive with high collars and tight sleeves. I was puzzled as to why, after women's fashion had become so much more free in the 60s, women would choose these styles again. I wouldn't particularly want to wear most of the dresses, but I did like the prints.
It had been 5 or 6 years since I last visited the Bowes Museum and I certainly won't be leaving it that long again. It's the kind of place where there is always something new to see, and things that have been there all the time that you never noticed before.