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Durham County Archives

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

My day started well, with the helpful Park and Drive driver telling me exactly where I had to get off the bust to visit the archives, and where I should pick it up to return to the car park. This sparked a conversation as we waited for our departure time. I encouraged him to visit the Bowes once the Untitled10 work is installed, I hope he comes.


Things continued well and the archivist I spoke to was both interested in what I wanted to see in the archive, and helpful in identifying additional material.


Seeing the original documents signed by Mr Kyle was really exciting. Sadly Mr Kyle did not list the names of his workers, simply identifying the number of workers and the hours of work. The archivist suggested that the list of names would only be found in Mr Kyle's wages book, but that this has been lost over time. A thought has struck me for a further project, to work with the Bowes to reconstruct this lost document from oral history records, asking local people to contribute their stories of family members who helped build the museum.


As well as Mr Kyle's records the archivist directed me to the records of John Gibson, a House sign and ornamental painter, glazier and paper hanger. In April 1883 Mr Gibson presented a very detailed invoice listing all his costs from 1877 to December 1882. It is amazing to see all the materials listed;

1877 Sept 6

308lbs putty £3 17s

6 gallons raw oil £1 4s

3 pints raw oil 1s 6d

1/2 gallon terpentine 2s


Sept 13

32lbs putty 8s

9lbs paint 6s


Sept 13

29lbs putty 7 s 6d

1 pint raw oil 6d


Sept 17

35lbs putty 8s


Sept 22

28lbs putty 7s


....the list goes on in tiny detail giving a fantastic impression of the materials of the victorian glazier and painter.


I asked the archivist about how I could find out about women who might have worked in the museum. She told me that Barnard Castle had been a national centre of carpet making, and that some of her relatives had been carpet weavers in Barnard Castle. She looked out various books and documents linked to the carpet weaving industry of Durham in general and Barnard Castle in particular.


One book really caught my eye, "Ancient Industry in Durham City - carpets and their manufacture" by Hugh Mackay and Co Ltd. This book is a promotional publication for Mackay carpets who were quality carpet makers, producing carpets for many grand houses. It is highly likely that Mackays would have made the original carpets for the Bowes Museum, but they certainly made the current stair carpet, a copy of a design from a Barnard Castle carpet maker (point paper no 2542 Pratt, Sons and Co of Barnard Castle, design 1842). The current carpet was installed in 1996. Brilliantly for me, there is a photo of women weaving carpets for Mackays in the 1920s, they are wearing beautifully made overalls and I did my best to copy the overall in an attempt to re-make these overalls for the stairs as part of Untitled10.


Carpet weavers overall


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