George Bowes (1701–1769) of Gibside in County Durham and his second wife, Mary (née Gilbert), were prominent members of the gentry in North-East England during the eighteenth century, and well known in London society. Both were keen amateur musicians, and supporters of musical activities in London and the North. However, the Bowes went further than merely attending musical events; they set up their own household band, using servants and local and national musicians. Their accounts, which survive for the seventeen years between their marriage in 1743 and George Bowes's death in 1760, document not only expenses paid out for this band and their instruments, but also instruments George and Mary themselves played, and music bought for the band to perform. This chapter examines the band, its members and instruments, the ways in which it was used, its augmentation by London and north-eastern professional musicians, and its repertoire and how that repertoire was purchased, in order to throw light on the Bowes's determination to provide high-quality musical entertainment for themselves and their guests.
❧ George Bowes
George was the youngest son of Sir William Bowes (1656–1706) and Elizabeth Blakiston, inheriting the family estates in 1722, at the age of twenty-one, after the early deaths of his three older brothers. He had been intended for a career in the army. A description of Captain Bowes survives from his early twenties: he was about six feet tall, with small mouth and nose, and grey eyes. He may, however, not have carried himself well; the description comments that he would be six feet tall ‘wo[u]ld he walk but upright’. He gained a reputation for being overbearing and autocratic, and his temper was notorious.
Although Bowes was busy with landscaping the family estates, with coal and iron interests, and with political ambitions (he became MP for County Durham in 1727), he still found time for leisure pursuits. He purchased a sub-stantial number of books (though it is not always possible to say whether these were for his own reading, for show, or subscribed to because he saw it as part of his duty as a gentleman to support the arts). He subscribed to the Society for the Encouragement of Learning, enjoyed fox-hunting and horse-racing, and attended musical events both in the North-East and in London, where he resided for six months of the year during parliamentary sessions.