Conservation Heritage United Kingdom

Auckland Castle’s £17m revamp approved

Planning permission includes museum and visitor centre

Auckland Castle. Photo by Sean Elliot

Work is starting on a £60m project to renovate Auckland Castle and the Market Place in Bishop Auckland in County Durham. Substantially funded by the philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, a London-based investment manager, it represents one of the most ambitious heritage-led regeneration projects in England in recent decades. The core of the scheme is the restoration and expansion of the castle, for 900 years the residence (and since 2010 just the office) of the Bishop of Durham.

Durham County Council granted planning permission for the £17m castle restoration this week. The project has already received £1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with a request for a further £9m due to be decided in May. It involves restoration of the state rooms, including the long dining room with Zurbarán’s 1640-44 paintings of “Jacob and his Twelve Sons”. A two-storey extension will be built and the 16th-century Scotland Wing will be converted to together create a museum on faith in the British Isles. Objects to be displayed include two Bronze-Age swords that had been buried as votive objects, the Cottingham Tank (a recently-discovered Viking lead font that represents a fusion of pagan and Christian beliefs) and four rare 16th-century pre-Reformation stained glass panels from Compton Verney.

Nearby, on the edge of the Market Place in the town of Bishop Auckland, a £2.5m visitor centre now also has planning permission. A further £5m project in the Market Place involves the conversion of an 1870 bank into an art gallery to be known as the Institute of Spanish Art and Culture. In addition, the Auckland Castle Trust has bought other buildings in the Market Place, which will be renovated for a variety of purposes, including a boutique hotel. All these projects are due for completion in 2018 (the castle will remain open throughout, with phased closures of rooms).

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