THERE was dismay yesterday over the closure of a costume gallery opened by the Queen Mother and which later staged a record-breaking display of her garments.

The gallery was one of the best- known features of the Bowes Museum, at Barnard Castle, County Durham, especially among its thousands of female visitors.

The Queen Mother, whose ancestor John Bowes founded the museum, opened the feature and named it the Queen Elizabeth Gallery of Costume, in 1976.

She said its creation was a most imaginative one and added: "Nothing more vividly reflects the habits and inclinations of our forebears than the clothes they wore. Their beauty and workmanship is often a delight to behold and their design recalls more gracious and leisured days."

In 1992, the Queen Mother loaned a large selection of her dresses, which were displayed in the gallery and proved to be the biggest attraction in the history of the museum, which was celebrating its centenary.

One woman visitor, who asked not to be named, said: "I was really saddened to discover that this popular attraction has been shut down without any public announcement.

"Many ladies have enjoyed studying a wide variety of costumes there over the years. Some, like me, have gone in specially to see the dress exhibitions rather than the priceless works of art and historic objects."

She said that one of the staff told her the gallery closed because more space was needed for a kitchen for the museum's tearoom.

The museum had record attendances while the Queen Mother's garments were on show. They included her wedding dress and Coronation dress, both designed by Handley Seymour, and other gowns by Norman Hartnell.

A museum spokesman said the gallery's space will be used to make way for improved facilities to cater for educational sessions, functions and commercial operations.

The gallery, between two rooms licensed for civil weddings, was ideally placed to link the two for functions with an extra catering and serving area.

Museum director Adrian Jenkins said: "By transforming the costume gallery into a functional space, we will create a suite where we can develop educational sessions and other commercial operations in a self-contained unit."

He said that costumes and textiles would be shown in other galleries to open at the end of next year.