Tuesday 21 September 2010

John and Josephine (posted 09/03/2010)

John Bowes almost became the Earl of Strathmore.  His father was indeed the 10th Earl of Strathmore but his mother was a local girl who lived close to Streatlam Castle, the home of the Earl; they weren't formally married until after John was born in 1811 and indeed the marriage was only properly registered on the day before the old Earl died in 1829, leaving Mary Millner, John's mother, as the Dowager Countess of Strathmore.  The matter of the inheritance of the title was settled by the House of Lords Committee of Privileges, and not in John's favour.  However, John inherited 40,000 acres of land and a rent roll of £20,000. He was well educated, attending both Eton and Cambridge.  In 1832 John was elected Member of Parliament for South Durham; he remained an MP until 1847.  He and his partners were owners of several collieries.  He was also a race-horse owner: his horse Western Australia won the Derby, and is now buried on the Streatlam estate; he had similar success with other horses too.
John was a regular visitor to Paris, and became closely interested in Le Theatre de Varietes, which he eventually bought.  There he met an actress called Josephine Coffin-Chevalier.  He was 35, and she was 22.  He married her in 1852.
John spent a lot of time in Paris, but made regular trips to his estate in Streatlam to conduct business, sometimes with Josephine; otherwise he wrote many letters to his agents in England (the post was very fast in those days!)
But to come to the point of this story ..... Both John and Josephine developed a huge interest in collecting all manner of items of value, paintings (including many by Josephine who was an accomplished artist and some of whose works were shown at the Paris Academy), statuary, china of all kinds, and so on.  They stored all these things in a house in Paris, almost losing everything during the Franco-German War of 1870.  Around about 1860 the Bowes's had decided to build a museum in Barnard Castle to house their collection. And along with the Museum John decided to build a chapel for his wife who, of course, was a French Catholic.  Two sets of Trustees were arranged, one for the Museum and the other for the Chapel.  The laying of the foundation-stone of the Museum took place in November 1869.  It was clearly thought by the Bowes's that John being much older than Josephine would die first and the plan was for Josephine to have a grand flat on the top storey of the Museum and that she would be able to worship in her Church next to the Museum. 
However it was not to be.  Josephine had never been terribly strong and healthy, but she had always been able to overcome her illnesses, and so in some ways her death in February of 1874 at the age of 48 came as something of a shock, to John and to her friends.
She had expressed a desire to be buried in her Chapel in the grounds of the Museum, and so a year later John laid the foundation stone of the new Chapel just to the east of the main building.  At first, all went well with the building of the Chapel until money began to run short for both Museum and Chapel.  On top of that the Bishop disagreed with John's plans to appoint the priest, as you would expect.  And so work on the Chapel came to a halt: the walls had reached the height of the tops of the windows, and the building remained as a roofless ruin for about fifty years.
John Bowes died at the age of 74 in 1885.  After a service in the Parish Church at Barnard Castle, his body was transferred to the vault at Gibside Hall to join that of his wife Josephine.  There their bodies were to lie in waiting until the Chapel was completed.
Because of a second marriage which John had contracted after the death of Josephine and various legacies, his will took a long time to go through probate. It was not until 1905 that the Trustees of the Chapel received monies from John's will, and it was deemed insufficient to complete the building of the Chapel. The Chapel was left for another twenty years whilst the money accumulated in the banks.  In 1926 the Trustees of the Museum and the Trustees of the Chapel agreed that the Chapel could be rebuilt on a corner of the Museum Park.  The old Chapel was taken down stone by stone and the pieces transported on a small railway to the new location, where the new church was built.  The building was finished by 1928. One night in July the bodies of John and Josephine were brought from the chapel at Gibside Hall and at daybreak were laid to rest in a new tomb behind the apse of the church.  In September 1928 the Church of St Mary's was consecrated by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, and became the parish church for the Catholics of Barnard Castle.
Each year I celebrate a Solemn Requiem Mass for the repose of the souls of our Founders.  I often speculate about the position of their bodies lying in their tomb.  The church is aligned to the east, but if I were to be able to see through the wall of the church when saying Mass, I would be looking straight at the front doors of the Museum; since the tomb is similarly aligned I wonder which way John and Josephine are facing - to the High Altar (which would be normal) or to their beloved Museum!

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