The Bowes Museum Archive holds thousands of documents relating to John and Joséphine Bowes. These tell us about life in Paris, buying objects for their collection from dealers in many European countries, decorating their homes in Louveciennes and Paris, involvement with the Théâtre des Variétés, establishing the Museum and their relationships with friends, family and servants in England and France.
As part of a project funded by the National Cataloguing Award Scheme, I am cataloguing the archives, especially the bills and letters, in detail. This will make it easier for people to find out what a fantastic range of information is available in these documents. The catalogues will be available online in 2013.
To help me, I have recruited teams of volunteers. Some transcribe the English letters and bills, as the 19th century handwriting can be difficult to read. The transcripts will be word-processed by volunteers, making it easier to search for places, people and subjects.
Seventeen volunteers transcribed 91 letters from the 1850s, mainly from John Bowes to his agent and his solicitor. They covered estate management, letting moors for shooting, estate personnel, felling timber, coalmining, Hunderthwaite enclosure negotiations and concerns about a proposed railway line. Two volunteers word-processed 30 letters.
As John and Joséphine lived in France for a large part of the year, many documents are in French. A group of volunteers is busy translating these documents. The translations are being word-processed as well.
The translating group are currently working on several series of records, including: plays Joséphine acted in, insurance policies (these include lists of paintings in various locations), bills and letters from Lamer, a dealer, and Baron Gudin, an artist and friend (some of his paintings are in the Picture Gallery) and John and Joséphine’s purchases at the 1867 Paris International Exhibition.
But the most intriguing item is a handwritten volume – mostly in beautiful calligraphy – of poems and prose ‘offered to Madame Joséphine Bowes by M.J. Owrse, attaché to the War Ministry’. We know nothing about M.J. Owrse! Several of the pieces refer to ‘le duc de Malakoff’. Using the Internet, books in the Museum’s Reference Library and an acrostic in the volume, we identified him as Marshall Pélissier – and there is a portrait of him in the Picture Gallery.
Judith Phillips, Archivist