Bowes Museum Silver Swan flies nest

Silver Swan Credit: Bowes Museum

The much loved Silver Swan automaton - the emblem of The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle - is to migrate to the Science Museum in London.

The unique, life-size musical automaton will make the journey in the New Year, where it will take its place as one of the star attractions in the Science Museum’s 2017 blockbuster exhibition, Robots.

It will be the first time the artefact has left The Bowes Museum since its purchase in 1872 by the Museum founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, who paid 5,000 francs (£200) for it.

Dating from around 1773, the Swan is the only one of its kind in the world and its performances have enchanted audiences for over four centuries.

It was first recorded in 1774 as a crowd puller in the Mechanical Museum of James Cox, a London showman and dealer. Its internal workings – controlled by three separate clockwork mechanisms – are attributed to John-Joseph Merlin, the Belgian horologist and famous inventor of the time who, amongst other things, gave the world the rollerskate.

Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “The Swan is an internationally recognized icon of The Bowes Museum, like the Canaletto’s or the El Greco, and we’re delighted that visitors to the Science Museum will, for a short period, be able to see its captivating performance.”

Ben Russell, Lead Curator of the Science Museum’s Robots exhibition said: ‘We are thrilled that the Silver Swan - one of the greatest 18th-century automatons - will be part of our Robots exhibition. The Swan is an amazing evocation of life, and makes us reflect on our endless fascination with replicating living things in mechanical form.’

Robots opens at the Science Museum from 8 February to 3 September 2017, before touring the UK and internationally until 2022. The Silver Swan will be on public display in the Robots exhibition for six weeks, from 8 February until 23 March 2017. The Swan will go back on show at The Bowes Museum in time for Easter and the commencement of the Museum’s 125th anniversary celebrations which begin in June 2017.