JONATHAN RUFFER, the man who bought Auckland Castle, the former
home of the Bishops of Durham, from the Church Commissioners, has
bid for another plot of theirs, which contains important
A petition to support Mr Ruffer's bid, which, he says, will
protect the remains, attracted almost 1000 signatures in the first
24 hours. The Commissioners have dismissed Mr Ruffer's contention
that the remains are under threat from development.
The site is Binchester, on the edge of Bishop Auckland, County
Durham. It is a Roman fort, built on top of an earlier settlement.
A recent find at the site was a third-century silver ring -
possibly the earliest piece of evidence of Christianity in
The Commissioners' estate adjoins the Auckland Castle estate,
which Mr Ruffer bought after initially showing interest in the
Castle's Zurbarán paintings, and is now developing as a tourist
attraction (Feature, 12
The estate has been split into ten lots, for sale by auction on
18 September. Mr Ruffer has bid the guide price, £2 million, for
two plots: one that contains the exposed archaeological remains,
and an adjoining plot, which contains Binchester Hall. This has
planning permission for development, and Mr Ruffer fears that this
will both damage any archaeological remains under the Hall and
threaten access to the main site.
Last week, he attempted to get the Commissioners to agree the
sale of the two plots to him before the auction, and has launched a
public campaign to support his bid.
The Commissioners, however, resisted his pre-emptive move, and
refuted his fears for the site. They accused the Auckland Castle
Trust of creating a "scare story" in order to become a preferential
bidder for the land.
A statement issued on Monday said: "Binchester Roman Fort is a
Scheduled Ancient Monument under the Ancient Monuments and
Archaeological Areas Act 1979. As such, there are strict statutory
protections for the Fort which make it a criminal offence to carry
out any works which would demolish, damage, remove, repair, add, or
alter the monument without permission from the Secretary of
"In addition, Durham County Council retains a Deed of
Guardianship for the site which ensures public access. These
statutory protections will continue to apply to any prospective
purchaser of the land. . .
"We have informed parties that offers should be submitted by 18
September, and that no offers prior to that date would be
considered. All other parties have accepted this process."
Mr Ruffer believes that the Commissioners divided up the lots
without considering the preservation of the ancient site. He fears
that they will look for a buyer for the whole site, which is valued
at £9.5 million, who will then seek to develop it.
Mr Ruffer says that this is not an empire-building exercise. "If
some other goon had come along and offered the £2 million to
preserve the site, I'd have thrown my hat into the air."
The sale had come at an inconvenient time, he said; but he felt
that, properly handled, Binchester had great potential as another
attraction in the north-east.