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Auckland Castle owner acquires ancient Roman settlement

26 September 2014

DAVID PETTS/DURHAM UNIVERSITY

PLOTS of land containing one of the most significant Roman settlements in Britain have been sold by the Church Commissioners to the trust that owns Auckland Castle, the neighbouring former home of the Bishop of Durham.

A £2-million bid from the Auckland Castle Trust for the Roman fort at Binchester, on the banks of the River Wear, in County Durham (News, 5 September), has been accepted by the Commissioners. The head curator of Auckland Castle, Dr Chris Ferguson, said that the settlement would now be protected for the nation.

The Commissioners have always said that the Roman remains were never under threat, despite being split across two plots, because, as the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it is a criminal offence to damage, demolish, or alter it without permission from the Secretary of State.

Dr Ferguson said that the Trust would now seek to work with English Heritage and Durham County Council to make the Roman settlement available to archaeologists and tourists.

Earlier this year, it was announced that a third-century silver ring - which, because of its inscription, could be the earliest evidence of Christianity in Roman Britain - had been discovered at the site of the Roman fort.

Jonathan Ruffer, who chairs the Trust, became interested in Auckland Castle because of its collection of Zurbarán paintings, but now owns the whole castle site, which he intends to develop into a tourist destination (Features, 12 July 2013).

When the Commissioners declined an initial "multi-million-pound" offer for the Binchester site before the auction deadline had elapsed, Mr Ruffer launched a campaign to reverse that decision, gathering thousands of signatures in an online petition. He said that development could ruin the Roman fort.

The Commissioners have now accepted his £2-million bid for the plot of land which contains the ancient settlement.

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