The Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum
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Founded over 100 years ago, by John and Joséphine Bowes, the magnificent building contains the greatest collection of European fine and decorative arts in the North of England.

Venue Type:


Opening hours

Open daily 1000-1700
Closed only 25,26 Dec, 1 Jan

Admission charges

£9.50 Adults
£8.50 Concessions
£5.00 Students (on production of Student Card)
£14.00 6 Month Admission Pass*
Free entry to holders of the Great British Heritage Pass; National Art Pass (on production of membership card)
Free entry to the Friends of The Bowes Museum.
Free entry to Children (under 16)
Free entry to Accompanying Carers


  • Museums Association
  • International Council of Museums
  • English Heritage

Additional info

The Museum's reference library is staffed by the Friends of The Bowes Museum. It is open Tuesday,Wednesday and Thursday By appointment only. Please ring for details.

The Friends of The Bowes Museum offer free guided tours of the galleries. For more information, or to pre-book your place please contact us.

Handling Sessions may be arranged in advance.

The entire collection of the Bowes Museum is a Designated Collection of national importance.

This collection contains paintings, ceramics, items of woodwork, objects d’art and textiles. Before Josephine’s death in 1874, John Bowes and his French wife had amassed some 15,000 objects of all types of European fine and decorative arts from the period 1400-1870. The bills for this collecting activity survive in the museum’s archive. Acquisitions made more recently such as the Enid Goldblatt collection of porcelain, have reinforced the continental feel of the museum.

The Museum holds an outstanding collection of European fine and decorative arts of the period 1400-1875, specialising in French and Spanish paintings. There is an extensive collection of English furniture, European ceramics and textiles, as well as archaeological material and archives from County Durham and social history from Teesdale.

Items from this collection

Collection details

Weapons and War, Toys and Hobbies, Social History, Religion, Photography, Personalities, Natural Sciences, Music, Literature, Fine Art, Decorative and Applied Art, Costume and Textiles, Coins and Medals, Archives, Archaeology

Key artists and exhibits

  • Silver Swan
  • James Cox
  • Pease Train
  • Clockwork Toys
  • Canaletto
  • El Greco
  • Goya
  • Tiepolo
  • Boucher
  • Revolving Band Clock
  • Giordano
  • Turner
  • Japanese Tiger
  • Portrait of Josephine Bowes
  • Portrait of John Bowes
  • Paintings by Josephine Bowes
  • Designated Collection
Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.
Dolls house and handling toys

Dolls, Bears, Robots

  • 29 June 2013 — 24 July 2015 *on now

Appealing to families, this extension to the current toy display creates a specific Children's Room in the Museum's Streatlam Galleries. More dolls and teddy bears from the collection are on show, together with long term loans of toys from our partner museum, Beamish. Also included is a display of vintage robots and mechanical toys

Suitable for

  • Any age
caricature of Margaret Thatcher eating John Major

Milk Snatcher: Gerald Scarfe - The Thatcher Drawings

  • 14 March — 31 May 2015 *on now

A remarkable exhibition featuring Gerald Scarfe’s drawings of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This previously un-exhibited body of work by the renowned satirical cartoonist and illustrator spans a period of 22 years, - from the Iron Lady’s days as a member of the shadow cabinet through to her leader ship of the Conservative Party, her tenure as Prime Minister and ultimately, her political decline.

The cartoons are vivid reminders of the Winter of Discontent and miners’ strike, through to the international stage with the Falklands War, the end of the Cold War and the close relations Maggie struck up with the USA. In colourful pen and ink, Thatcher is varyingly depicted as cunning, razor sharp and perversely sexual. They depict Thatcher in multiple guises as a shark, a chicken and an axe. Scarfe followed Thatcher’s political career with unprecedented scrutiny, pulling no punches as he exposes all the strengths and weaknesses, and seeing the original drawings allows the opportunity to examine the relationship between undoubtedly the finest political cartoonist of our time and the best know political figure of the 20th century. These often shocking images depict Thatcher as cunning, ruthless, mean spirited, vain, bullying, razor sharp, terrifying and sexy.

Suitable for


Free with museum admission


illustration of prehistoric man fighting bear

Prehistoric People

  • 2 May — 27 September 2015 *on now

If you’ve ever imagined stepping back in time to experience how our prehistoric ancestors lived, hunted, and defended themselves against wild animals, then a visit to this exhibition is a must this summer.

Learn about prehistoric people through a variety of spectacular objects including flint tools, metal swords, jewellery, examples of rock art and much more!

Artist Liam Murray will be painting evocative images from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, to help visitors understand the objects’ context. Objects from the Museum’s collection will be displayed alongside pieces from the Yorkshire Museum.

This exhibition will interest people of all ages, from those interested in local ancient history, to school groups studying the prehistoric era and families keen to explore life during that time period.

Suitable for


Free with museum admission


photograph of antique lace bonnets

Common Grounds: Lace Drawn From The Everyday

  • 2 May — 28 June 2015 *on now

An installation of light sensitive drawings by artist Sarah Casey will go on show in The Bowes Museum’s award winning Fashion & Textiles Gallery.

Common Grounds: Lace Drawn from the Everyday features a selection of Casey’s drawings of bonnets which literally bring to light hidden aspects of the internationally significant Blackborne Lace Collection, the whole of which was gifted to the Museum in 2006 by descendants of A Blackborne & Co, master lace dealers in 19th century London.

In addition to the main Blackborne collection, which is exceptional in its quality and quantity, the Museum received a secondary group of items categorised as the ‘B’ collection. Unlike the main collection, which contains some of the finest surviving examples of handmade lace dating from the 16th century, the latter is principally the lace of ordinary people. It consists of reworked fragments of lace from a range of sources, with the quality itself uneven, although some fragments of lace on the bonnets is close to 300 years old.

And it is these which inspired Casey’s exquisite, transparent drawings after she opened two unsorted trunks of stock from Blackborne’s shop, which had lain unexamined and overlooked for 70 years.

Intrigued, she began sorting through the bundled together articles, visually enjoying the process of examining and creating a record of their personal and social history, while further exploring how drawing can both examine unseen aspects of the collection and present it creatively to the public.

For the exhibition, Casey has catalogued every lace bonnet via 54 ‘hidden’ drawings which appear like x-rays or scans, revealed only when held up to the light.

This innovative approach to exhibiting aspects of the collection seeks to revalue this overlooked lace, bridging a gap between high art and everyday textiles of ordinary people.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Free with museum admission


photograph of woman wearing lace backed dress

Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal

  • 11 July — 25 October 2015

The Bowes Museum and the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent have collaborated to create Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, the first exhibition in the UK to present a comprehensive display of the French fashion designer’s work and life. The YSL show highlights the defining elements of his vision, and the significant influence it has had on fashion and the way we understand womenswear.

“Fashion fades, style is eternal” Yves Saint Laurent once said. Articulating this idea, the exhibition presents fifty garments including some iconic pieces from the Russian Collection, the Mondrian dresses and the Tuxedo. The show also opens up a dialogue with The Bowes Museum’s collection, creating a unique sense of narrative around the history of fashion. It inhabits much of the Museum's first floor, including the award-winning Fashion & Textiles Gallery, which has hosted high profile fashion exhibitions such as Vivienne Westwood Shoes, Stephen Jones Hats, Henry Poole & Co Tailoring, a retrospective of Laura Ashley and most recently 'Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion'.

Suitable for


Free with museum admission


New Light

  • 14 November 2015 — 7 February 2016

New Light celebrates and promotes talented contemporary artists in the North of England. The charity has chosen The Bowes Museum to host its biennial Open Exhibition in 2015, when a number of prizes - including the prestigious £10,000 Valeria Sykes Prize - will be awarded for the best work being produced by Northern artists. The shortlisted paintings and prints will be available to see and buy in the exhibition.

With the breadth of work submitted for the New Light prizes, it is expected to be one of the most exciting shows opening in the North of England.

To coincide with the exhibition New Light will be running an innovative arts project with a local school
and hosting workshops and talks for adults interested in acquiring or refining an art-based skill, or learning more about buying art.

Suitable for


Free with museum admission


Resources listed here may include websites, bookable tours and workshops, books, loan boxes and more. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all.

After School Club

The Bowes Museum’s After School Club is for children aged 7-12 years and meets at 15.45 every Wednesday during term time. They explore different parts of the Museum’s amazing collections through hands-on arts activities with recent topics including optical art experiments, Art Nouveau glass inspired vessels and even a performance of a Mummer’s Play.
Being a member of the After School Club means that you get to decide on the project focus – be it clay containers, printing patterns or Modroc models, everyone is given the opportunity to vote for their favourite choice. It’s a great way to meet new friends, learn new skills and get your creative juices flowing!

How to obtain

If you are interested in joining The Bowes Museum’s After School Club, please contact the Education Team on 01833 694602,

Portraits and Portraiture

How to obtain

Visit The Museums Network website which includes The Bowes Museum, for downloadable resources and games.

The Bowes

The Bowes Museum
Barnard Castle
DL12 8NP




01833 690606

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.