The Auckland Project brings to life the old land and property of the Bishop of Durham in Bishop Auckland. Formerly the site of the Bishop of Durham’s Palace at Auckland Castle, the town is now benefiting from one of the best examples of philanthropy in the North East – the Auckland Project. The Auckland Project was created by Jonathan Ruffer, a successful businessman and philanthropist who returned to his native County Durham with a dream to impact the local economy by creating visitor attractions in Bishop Auckland. Jonathan Ruffer started by purchasing the former Bishop of Durham’s Palace and then started a project of restoration, aiming to create several visitor attractions in the town with each having a different emphasis.
Auckland Castle itself developed from a fortress to fight in a war-torn land, into a country manor of impressive scale. The Castle was required to show off the influence of the Bishop of Durham who was often considered one of most powerful positions in the whole of England and, on occasion, the whole British Isles. The Bishops from their preferred residency of Auckland Castle would be able to have a huge influence on British politics often being the linchpin in the defence against Scotland and international religious politics. A journey through the castle tells this story and highlights bishops ranging from the Holy, to warriors. Outside of the castle is the Walled Garden, a 17th Century garden created by the Bishop of Durham with greenhouses and heated walls, enabling the estate to grow fruit and vegetables throughout the year – with the most striking of these for the time being pineapples. The garden, when completed, will provide produce for the Auckland Project’s restaurants, which adds a fantastic element of sustainability to the project.
Just off the town’s marketplace is the Spanish Art Gallery. This gallery has a collection of paintings that focus on medieval and early modern Spanish art, with “Jacob and his Twelve Sons” by Francisco de Zurbarán, being the core of the collection. Using the paintings gathered and curated within the castle, the Auckland Project has found a fantastic way of taking a part of the Castle’s history and developing it into another attraction for the town. This collection of Spanish art is intended to grow as new pieces of art are added to the collection.
The Faith Museum tells the story of faith within the British Isles. It takes us through the pre-Christian faiths of the British Isles, right up to the modern day, where people of many different faiths and no faith exist side-by-side. The aim of the museum is to tell the story of faith without directing you toward any conclusion, but for you to meditate on the experience – after all they say that they are taking on a big challenge, with the tagline being ‘Eternity in 740 square metres’.
The Mining Art Gallery is a very fitting part of the North East of England’s history, with so much of the wealth and employment of the region having come from the rich coal fields that still exist under much of the North East. This gallery has collections of art from famous artists such as Tom McGuinness, Norman Cornish and the Gemini collection – a collection of 420 paintings and other works of art by miners from the region. The Mining Art Gallery is special in how it highlights the social history of ordinary people, who worked in incredibly difficult circumstances. Once you have enjoyed all these fantastic sites, there is also the Deer Park. The park is a wonderful day out for the family, with a downloadable map and three trails, all having their own points of interest and fun for all ages to enjoy.