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
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.