The original building was a manor house or hunting lodge constructed by Bishop Pudsey in the late 1100s. Around 100 years later, Bishop Bek established Auckland Castle. He preferred to live here rather than Durham Castle because of the vast hunting grounds. By now, the king had granted the Bishop of Durham immense power: he was the Prince Bishop. Why was he given this power? The monarch needed a strong ally to protect the North of England from Scottish marauders, a sort of buffer zone. The Prince Bishop controlled this part of North East England, and Auckland Castle was the seat of power. He could raise money from taxes, mint his own coins, lead his own army and even establish his own parliament. As long as he remained loyal to the king, the Prince Bishop would continue to be one of the most powerful political and military men in the country. After the disestablishment of the Church of England at the end of the First English Civil War in 1646, Auckland Castle was sold to Sir Arthur Hazelrigg, who demolished much of the medieval building, including the original two-storey chapel, and built a mansion. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, Prince-Bishop John Cosin, in turn demolished Hazelrigg's mansion and rebuilt the castle converting the banqueting hall into the chapel that stands today.
In 1756 Bishop Richard Trevor bought a set of paintings of Jacob and his 12 sons painted by Francisco de Zurbarán which still hang in the Long Dining Room. It is possible that the seventeenth century paintings were intended for South America. However they never reached their supposed destination, eventually coming into the possession of James Mendez who sold twelve of the thirteen to Dr. Trevor for £125 in 1756. Bishop Trevor was unable to secure the 13th portrait, Benjamin which was sold separately to the Duke of Ancaster and hangs in Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire. Bishop Trevor commissioned Arthur Pond to produce a copy painting of "Benjamin". The copy, together with the 12 originals, hang in the castle's Long Dining Room, which Bishop Trevor had redesigned especially to take the pictures. In 1832, when William van Mildert, the last prince-bishop, gave over Durham Castle to found Durham University, Auckland Castle became the sole episcopal seat of the See of Durham. The site still retains elements of the Medieval Park including bridges, a fish pond and woodland rides, providing an important record of how the Medieval Bishops lived, entertained and hunted. There are large wooded areas which in the past would have provided fuel and timber for the Bishops. You enter the Park via the 18th century Robinson Clock Tower and Gatehouse. Further through the Park, you will find a Deer House which was built in 1760 in Gothic Revival style. It was constructed as a folly to provide shelter for the deer and a place for them to be fed. There was also a viewing area where guests could watch the deer. After the Bishops had been hunting, they needed to keep their meat chilled so they built an Ice House. You will find this after crossing one of the stunning bridges which span the River Gaunless.
The Throne Room is a sign of the power of the Prince Bishops. As you enter, you are faced by the Bishop’s Throne. The Throne is very clearly a chair of state; wide, heavy and ornately carved. Behind the Throne there is an ornate plaster screen depicting the arms of the Diocese supported by a crook and a sword, and surmounted by a bishop’s mitre rising from a coronet. This signifies the status of the northern Bishopric as though it should be worn by a king or queen. The use of a sword also shows that the Prince Bishop had power which extended beyond the Church to securing and administering the secular law. Around the walls of the room hang portraits of some of the successive bishops. The two portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence of Bishops Barrington and Van Mildert are impressive, as is the portrait of Bishop Wescott painted by George Richmond. The two hundred year-old tinted windows (by James Wyatt) are of very pale green and pink tinted glass – ‘to make the ladies appear less pale in the bright sunlight’. They overlook the gardens and bowling green. Opposite the windows stand two marble top tables acquired by Bishop Trevor. The marble came from the tomb of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. It was in this room that Bishop Barrington met the writer, Sir Walter Scott. They became great friends and Scott would always stay at the Castle whenever he was travelling home to Scotland. There is wheelchair access to the majority of the park and castle. Some of the upper story rooms can only be reached by steps. Assistance dogs are welcome. There is no braille signage or paperwork. There are accessible toilets but few facilities for the visually impaired.
Location : Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL14 7NR
Transport: Bishop Auckland (National Rail) then bus or taxi. Bus routes Sapphire X21, 6, 18, 56, 104 and 113 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Wednesday to Monday 10:00 to 17:00.
Tickets: Adults £6.00. Concessions £5.00. Children/Carers Free
Tel: 01388 743 750