THE former palace of the Bishops of Durham, Auckland Castle, reopens tomorrow, as a public attraction, after a three-year, multi-million-pound makeover.
The refurbishment of the castle in the small County Durham town of Bishop Auckland is the heart of the Auckland Project, an ambitious £150-million revitalisation of the depressed former industrial community by the City financier Jonathan Ruffer (News, 31 March 2017).
Mr Ruffer, who was brought up in the north-east of England, has boosted the economy through projects such as Kynren, the live-action outdoor spectacular, which charts 2000 years of English history, a faith museum, and galleries that display mining art and Spanish old masters.
House of Hues/The Auckland ProjectThe long dining room, with a table setting dating back to the time of the Rt Revd Richard Trevor, Bishop of Durham from 1752 to 1771. It was Bishop Trevor who bought the paintings by Zurbaráns
It was his interest in art that led him, in 2012, to buy the castle and its collection of paintings, which depict Jacob and his 12 sons, by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán. Mr Ruffer backed a campaign by local people to stop the Church Commissioners from selling the pictures, which had been at the castle since 1756. They now form the centrepiece of the castle’s displays.
The refurbishment, which was supported by a £12.4-million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has involved the restoration of the castle’s original Georgian Gothic interior. Visitors will learn of the Prince Bishops’ great wealth and political power since medieval times, which allowed them to raise armies and mint coins. Their influence included advising Catherine of Aragon on her marital difficulty, and campaigning for the abolition of slavery.
House of Hues/The Auckland ProjectThe Bishop’s study, restored to how it was in the time of the Rt Revd Hensley Henson, Bishop of Durham from 1920 to 1939
Tourists can now follow the 18th-century processional route through the state rooms to the throne room, where important guests, including royalty, were entertained. They can also visit the bishops’ private apartments, last occupied in 2010.
Mr Ruffer said: “I’m pleased that anyone can now come and visit this historic building and discover the rich tales and treasures of our shared history. . . Historically, the people of Bishop Auckland served the castle — but now it’s the other way round.”
The Auckland Project is a charity working with the community to provide a range of formal and informal learning for people of all ages, as well as jobs and apprenticeships directly and through its supply chain. It also supports sustainable living, including community-supported agriculture, to promote health and wellbeing.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund chairman, Sir Peter Luff, said: “The castle’s transformation into an arts and cultural centre will connect people with their heritage, and act as a major catalyst for the regeneration of Bishop Auckland.
“We hope Auckland Castle will be an inspiration for heritage organisations across the country, encouraging even more of them to work to boost their local economy and ensuring the UK is an ever more attractive place to live, work, and visit.”
Tickets cost £10 for adults, £8 concessions, and £3 for under-16s. www.aucklandproject.org