Explore the family Library and Chapel, the Sculpture Gallery and the Orangery, with a range of exhibition rooms displaying amazing family artefacts and antiques.
Destruction and Revival: The ‘Big House’ at Bowood
2021 marks the 65th anniversary of the demolition of the ‘Big House’. Bowood was one of 250 country houses of architectural importance demolished in the two decades following the end of World War II, the majority of which faced the bulldozers in the 1950s.
Originally designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s as a conservatory to grow fruit, now primarily an art gallery.
The gallery displays family portraits, some of which belonged to the 1st Marquess, and a number of important Old Masters and 19th-century paintings purchased by the 3rd Marquess. The large Clarkson Stanfield canvasses were in the dining room of the Big House, the only room preserved when the Big House was demolished in 1955 and now the Committee Room at Lloyd’s of London. The small display of paintings relating to Napoleon came into the family with Emily Flahault, 4th Marchioness of Lansdowne, whose father, the Comte de Flahault, was Napoleon’s aide-de-camp.
A collection of over 5,000 books acquired by the 3rd Marquess.
The decorative scheme dates back to the early 19th century, when the 3rd Marquess employed C.R.Cockerell to replace the original Adam interior. Guests would meet in the Library after dinner to read, play chess, sing, and talk about politics. Talleyrand, Jeremy Bentham, Lord Macaulay and Thomas Moore were among the many visitors who enjoyed hospitality at Bowood. The collection of books includes literature, nature, art, architecture, the sciences and travel.
Originally designed by Robert Adam as a menagerie or zoo for wild animals!
This room was originally created by Robert Adam as a menagerie or zoo, where it is documented that a leopard and an orang-utan were kept here in the 18th century! The Sculpture Gallery was created by the present Marquis of Lansdowne in 1980, housing pieces from the Lansdowne sculpture collections.
On the north wall hang two large and very fine 16th-century Flemish tapestries. Among the classical marbles is a Roman copy of Myron’s Discobolos (discus thrower), which was wrongly restored in the 18th century as a figure carrying a cult statue. Dorothea, a 19th-century sculpture by John Bell, was purchased by the 3rd Marquess; the figure was then so popular that it was reproduced in a smaller version in Parian china for the mass market.
An ornate chapel, designed by C.R. Cockerell in the early 19th century for the family.
The chamber organ was installed in 2004, to commemorate the millennium; the pipes are set into an earlier case dating from the 18th-century. The marble torchères came from the dining room of the Big House. This room was preserved when the Big House was demolished in 1955 and was recreated in the Lloyds Building in London. The Chapel is still used for special services and monthly recitals during the open season.
It was here that Dr Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen gas in 1774
The Laboratory offers a glimpse into the history of science. Now an ante-room to the Library fitted with bookcases, this was a working laboratory in the late eighteenth century. It was through experiments in this room that Dr Priestley, tutor to the 1st Marquess’ two sons, was able to identify oxygen. Following on from Dr Priestley’s discovery Dr Jan Ingenhousz used this room for further experiments who later identified the process of photosynthesis.
In those days this room was full of scientific equipment, but sadly it was all sold when the 1st Marquess died.
Upstairs hosts many historical family treasures, including Napoleon’s death mask
A staircase at the west end of this gallery leads to the exhibition rooms and a fascinating array of family treasures such as Napoleon’s death mask, Queen Victoria’s wedding chair and a collection of Indian objects.
On display is an early nineteenth century Albanian costume, in which Lord Byron was painted by Thomas Phillips in 1813. The Victorian Room houses Queen Victoria’s wedding chair; a gift from the Queen to the 3rd Marquess after her wedding in 1840. The Napoleonic Collection in the Upper Exhibition Room includes Napoleon’s death mask and other unusual treasures such as Napoleon’s handkerchief.