Like walking in the rain and the snow
When there’s nowhere to go
And you’re feelin’ like a part of you is dying
So goes the song by 10cc, though oddly enough in Gouldman and Stewart’s song, they didn’t get as far as listing “Build a French Chateau”. Shame really because it would have rhymed, and is also a real phenomenon. About a dozen years ago I attended a sales conference in Droitwich at Chateau Impney, a hotel that had originally been constructed by a wealthy salt magnate to impress his half French bride, though apparently with limited success. A bit like my view of the conference.
Following a recent discussion about cultural venues in the North East I ventured to a museum with a similar background. John Bowes, illegitimate son of John Lyon-Bowes, 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne married Joséphine, an actress in a Parisian theatre that he owned, and together they indulged their love of art, acquiring an extensive collection and then building a museum in which to house it. The Bowes Museum also has a distinctive French design, and was in fact the first building in England to be constructed using Metric rather than Imperial measurements.
The exhibits within the museum are an eclectic assortment; an extensive selection of oil paintings that includes works by Goya and El Greco as well as two large canvasses that I remember from visiting the museum as a school boy 40 years ago. I knew then the Canaletto‘s were important paintings, but without my subsequently acquired experience of Venice they were meaningless. Now I was able to appreciate them.
Then there are cases full of ceramics (which largely leave me cold, though I was surprised to discover that the gaudy majolica that I associate with Italian tourist shops dates back several centuries), toys and dolls, and even a two-headed, seven-legged calf.
More tasteful is the exhibit celebrating the history of fine tailoring, which runs from the sublime to the ridiculous and in between features my father’s personal favourite; a double-breasted suit in Prince of Wales check.
The contrasting Laura Ashley exhibit wouldn’t have impressed my mother in the same way.
Then there is local archeology, furniture, silverware, wood panelling, and more, but most notably the Silver Swan automaton, which performs to its public at 2.00 daily and which has become the symbol of the museum.
But for all of the riches inside, for me the exterior remains impressive in its own right, and whilst the parterre isn’t looking its best in the midst of winter, the low sun provided perfect illumination for the grand edifice. In the same way that Chateau Impney didn’t guarantee a lasting love, the Bowes Museum similarly failed. John and Josephine both died before its completion. Perhaps 10cc were right to omit it.