Auckland Castle re-opens after three years!

  • 04 Nov 2019
  • Article

Auckland Castle, former home of the Prince Bishops of Durham, now re-open following major conservation

Auckland Castle in County Durham, North East England is now re-open to visitors following a three year conservation project.

Once the private palace of the Prince Bishops of Durham, the 900 year-old Castle uses art, architecture and historic interior design, combined with interactive animation, soundscapes and audio-visual displays, to tell the untold stories of power and faith from some of the most influential men in British history.

The Prince Bishops commanded great wealth and exercised political and military power second only to the King for over 750 years. Their influence extended to public affairs, including advising Catherine of Aragon on her divorce from Henry VIII, and the Castle played host to royalty on multiple occasions, including King John, Charles I and Queen Victoria.

Following parliamentary reforms in the 1830s, the Prince Bishops’ secular powers were significantly diminished but the Bishops of Durham (resident in Auckland Castle until 2010) have continued to play an important role in shaping society, sitting in the House of Lords and advising on contemporary social and religious issues.

Auckland Castle was bought by financier Jonathan Ruffer in 2012 with the aim of making it  accessible to visitors (read our interview with Jonathan in Historic House magazine).  With support from a number of organisations and individuals, including a £12.4m grant from National Lottery players via The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Castle has now been sensitively returned to its Georgian Gothic splendour, as designed by renowned English architect James Wyatt.

Visitors are able to follow Wyatt’s 18th century processional route through the Castle from its private chapel (recognised as one of the largest in Europe) to the State Rooms, where the Prince Bishops entertained important guests.

The private apartments where later Bishops lived with their families, are also open to the public for the first time, offering an insight into the domestic lives of the Castle’s former residents.  Each room presents episodes in the life of a particular Bishop, capturing a specific moment in time. In this way their unique characters come to light, reminding visitors that whilst these men were powerful figures, they also had their own individual lives, impulses and quirks.

Interpretation within the rooms is delivered through a range of interactive media, including soundscapes, animations and audio-visual displays bringing the stories of Auckland Castle to life.  A special family trail is available for younger guests, while visitors of all ages are also be able to handle some key objects on display, to help them experience the Castle in a more engaging way.

Auckland Castle is home to a collection of precious objects collected by the Prince Bishops as symbols of status and power. These include the series of paintings Jacob and His Twelve Sons by Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán, which were bought at auction by Bishop Trevor in 1756. They are returning to Auckland Castle following an international tour to the United States and Israel, where they were viewed by more than 394,000 people.

A separate exhibition space, Bishop Trevor Gallery, has also been created within Auckland Castle to host temporary exhibitions, such as The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour, which is on show until January 2020.

The Bishop’s Kitchen café, serving soups, sandwiches, salads and cakes, further enhances the visitor experience, alongside a small gift and souvenir shop.

Clare Baron, Head of Interpretation and Exhibitions at The Auckland Project, said:  “The story of Auckland Castle and the Prince Bishops of Durham spans more than 1,000 years but for various reasons has remained relatively untold. Now, thanks to extensive conservation work and research, visitors are able to walk in the footsteps of the men who helped shaped the country we live in today.

Auckland Castle is at the heart of The Auckland Project, a multi-faceted visitor destination using art, faith and heritage to fuel long-term change in the town of Bishop Auckland. As well as bringing visitors to the region, the project aims to make beautiful works of art, experiences and opportunities - the things that feed people’s bodies, minds and spirit - accessible to everyone. 

The Auckland Project comprises a number of sites in and around the Castle grounds, including a Deer Park, Walled Garden, Auckland Tower visitor centre and Mining Art Gallery, which are all now open to the public.  A Faith Museum and Spanish Gallery are also in development.

Bishop Auckland is also home to the outdoor spectacular Kynren – an epic tale of England.  Performed every summer on a 7.5-acre stage close to Auckland Castle and featuring 1,000 volunteer cast and crew, Kynren was named one of TripAdvisor’s Top Five Performances in 2018.

Bishop Auckland is located just 11 miles from the historic city of Durham in North East England, close to the A1 road network and other major transport links.

An Auckland Pass, offering entry to Auckland Castle, Bishop Trevor Gallery, Deer Park, Mining Art Gallery and Auckland Tower for multiple visits throughout the year is priced at £12.50 per adult, £10.50 concessions, £3 per child (under 16) and £28 for a family (two adults and up to three children).  For more information please visit or call 01388 743797.


Find out more about Auckland Castle here.


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