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Bowes swan posers; Bowes Museum.

CONSERVATION work on Bowes Museum's famous Silver Swan automaton has thrown up a number of interesting posers relating to its 235-year-old history.

Horologist Matthew Read and his team carefully dismantled, photographed and documented more than 1,000 pieces which make up the life-size musical automaton, before starting the process in reverse. This led them to think that previous specialists who worked on the swan must also have kept some interesting records, which the museum, near Barnard Castle, is keen to trace.

As a result an appeal has gone out for information relating to the late Tom Bryson-Smith, an engineer from the region, who is known to have worked on the Swan during the early 1970s.

Although not a specialist conservator, it is known that Mr Bryson-Smith had a great understanding of mechanical objects and that on observing the innards of the Swan he said that it had been "over-operated" and advised that its performances be curtailed.

This advice was acted upon and the hourly playing of the automaton was reduced to twice a day in summer and once a day in winter.

Mr Bryson-Smith also recommended that the swan be maintained on a regular basis. This has been undertaken for the past 28 years by another engineer, Ray Mand, whose knowledge and assistance have been invaluable during the current conservation.

If anyone has any information relating to Mr Bryson-Smith's records regarding his work on the Swan, the museum would be delighted to hear from them on 01833 690606.

The museum was created more than 100 years ago by an extraordinary couple, John and Josephine Bowes.

Together they built up the greatest private collection of fine and decorative arts in the North of England and constructed a magnificent building in which to house them.

The collection contains thousands of objects including furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and many other items covering an extensive range of European styles and periods.

Major works at the museum, which are expected to be completed early this year, include roof restoration work and gallery redevelopment, meaning that some spaces are currently not available for public access.


235 YEARS OLD: The famous automated Silver Swan at Bowes Museum, made of more than 1,000 pieces
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 10, 2009
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