Bishop Auckland is an ancient and historic market town, which has been the seat for country residence of the Prince Bishops and the official home of the Bishop of Durham since the 12th century.
Bishop Auckland is the largest town in the south of County Durham and is located about 12 miles northwest of Darlington and 12 miles southwest of Durham.
Bishop Auckland stands in an elevated position above the River Wear on a natural ridge.
The town has a strong commercial and retail core and the dominant surrounding development is residential, the majority of which is to the south of the town centre.
This runs in a continuous line, eventually linking to the settlements of St Helen’s Auckland and West Auckland.
Bishop Auckland has several unique selling points to potential visitors and tourists including Auckland Castle and the collection of Zurbaran paintings, the parkland, railway heritage, Binchester Roman fort, connections with Stan Laurel and the Saxon Church at nearby Escomb.
Much of the town’s earliest history surrounds its links with the Bishops of Durham.
In 1083, monks were sent from Durham Cathedral to establish a collegiate church, and in around 1183 Bishop Pudsey established a manor house in the town.
The earliest known reference to Bishop Auckland itself is as a gift of a Bishop’s borough given to the Bishop of Durham as a gift by King Canute in around 1020.
However, a village almost certainly existed on the town’s present site long before this, with there being a church in South Church from as early as Saxon times.
Bishop Auckland is so named because it is the site of the Bishop of Durham’s place of residence.
The origin of the name Auckland, which is shared with West Auckland and St Helen Auckland is unclear.
The earliest recorded form of the name is ‘Alcleat’, a name of Celtic origin meaning ‘cliff on the Clyde’, which is an unusual reference to a site in Durham, but it may have been related to another Clyde river in the vicinity in the past, rather than the Clyde in the west part of Scotland.
The place name has also been referred to as ‘Oakland’, a reference to the well-wooded countryside.
The linear form of Bishop Auckland has developed from the growth of the town around its original Roman Road alignment along Newgate Street.
The oldest part of the town is centred on the Market Place and the northern part of Newgate Street.
The early 19th century saw the rapid development of the Durham Coalfield, and Bishop Auckland was surrounded by small pits, the last of which was closed in the 1960’s.
It retained its status as a Market Town, providing professional services and shopping for the many mining villages which surrounded it, and also the lead miners of Weardale.
Bishop Auckland has developed from the Market Place and Auckland Castle south along the central spine of Newgate Street as a continuous built-up area to West Auckland.
Numerous changes to the road and rail infrastructure during the industrial boom period have dramatically altered some parts of the town.
The ‘market’ or ‘retail’ core of the town has physically shifted to the south and spread out along Newgate Street, however the historic and visual focus of the town remains at the Market Place.
Today, the main railway station is located south of the conservation area, to the west of the foot of Newgate Street and the railway viaduct over the River Wear has been converted to carry road traffic.
Just a mile from the town is Binchester Roman Fort which is home to the best preserved Roman bath house in Britain.
Stonework from the Fort was used in one of the finest examples of early Christian architecture in Northern Europe, the Saxon Church at nearby Escomb.
The settlement is the largest town within the County, representing the major employment, commercial and residential centre in south west Durham with a population of 25,000 and serving a wider catchment area of over 150,000.
The main street of Bishop Auckland is Newgate Street. It’s a Roman road and part of Dere Street.
The Romans had a look-out post on the site of the current Bishop’s Palace, but their large cavalry fort was built at Binchester, about a mile to the North, a cavalry supply station for the Roman Wall.
A mile from the town are the remains of Binchester Roman Fort, and at Escomb we have one of the finest examples of early Christian architecture in Northern Europe in the restored 7th Century Escomb Saxon Church.
Furthermore, the Romans had a look-out post where Auckland Castle is sited today and a 10 acre fort at nearby Binchester.
One of the earliest Co-operative Societies was founded in Bishop Auckland in 1860, which expanded throughout South Durham.
The splendid annual Flower Show, held in the Bishop’s Park, made a name for the town.
By the end of the 19th century, commercial and retail development had extended down Newgate Street, linking with the railway station and railway goods yard.
Other industrial ventures within the town also included the Gas Works towards the end of Newgate Street, A brick and tile works and a steel works – all close to the railway goods yard.
The Gaunless Roller Flour Mills were also in operation on their original mill site near Gaunless Bridge. Smaller scale industry included linen weaving, tanning, shoemaking, clock and instrument making.
By the mid-19th century, the National School had been constructed just outside the southeast section of the Conservation Area adjacent to the cricket ground and by the end of the century, the Grammar School had been completed on South Church Road and extensions made to the original National School building.
Also just off the Market Place, in North Bondgate, is the Discovery Centre, an exhibition and events space open to the public.
Bishop Auckland is also home to the magnificent Auckland Castle, the official country residence of the Prince Bishops for centuries and still the official home of the Bishop of Durham. Surrounding the beautiful Auckland Castle is the Bishop’s Deer Park.
From Roman times, the area now known as Bishop Auckland was suggested to have been used as a lookout post for the Roman fort of Vinovium (Binchester Fort), that was located on the key Roman road of Dere Street and built in about 79 AD above the north bank of the River Wear. Bishop Auckland was to become an important market town.
With the rapid development of industry, the building of the railways and expansion of coal mining in the 19th century, Bishop Auckland developed as an industrial town, with extensive construction and expansion.
As with other industrial centres of the time, industrial development had both positive and negative effects, with the positive expansion of the town with new buildings and new facilities, but with also a rapid expansion in population and resultant problems of overcrowding.
There has been a gradual decline in the industry of the area and by the mid-20th century, Bishop Auckland had changed substantially, becoming more a service hub for the district and a centre for shops and other infrastructure.
Bishop Auckland in Roman and Early Medieval Times
Dere Street, the Roman Road from York to Corbridge (continuing into Scotland), is believed to have run through Bishop Auckland.
No conclusive archaeological evidence has been found but its known alignment further south suggests that it ran on the line now taken by it Newgate Street. The road led to the fort at Binchester (Vinovium), located one mile north of Bishop Auckland.
As well the base for a substantial garrison Binchester was also a significant civilian settlement, probably the largest within the boundaries of the modern county, and likely to have served as the administrative centre for the area.
Binchester continued as some form of community for more than five hundred years after Britain ceased to be part of the Roman Empire c. 411 AD, eventually being supplanted as the focus for settlement by Bishop Auckland when the Prince Bishops established their rural residence there
Some historians consider that the Battle of Alutthelia, fought 844 AD in which Raedwulf of Northumbria was killed fighting a large Viking incursion, took place somewhere in the vicinity of Bishop Auckland.
Little excavation has occurred in the historic centre of Bishop Auckland and as a consequence knowledge of its early development is severely limited.
There could have been some settlement along Dere Street or possibly an outlying military installation associated with or perhaps pre-dating the fort at Binchester.
As a natural ridge above the River Wear it may also have been an attractive location for settlement in the prehistoric period as perhaps indicated by archaeological features in the Castle Park
The early history of Bishop Auckland is centred on the park and castle of Auckland, which has been the principal residence from the 12th century of the Bishops of Durham (and officially recognised residence since 1832).
The lands were granted to the See of Durham in the 11th century at about the time of the Norman Conquest, and during medieval times, the Bishop was the largest landholder in the area.
Auckland Castle (also known as Auckland Palace) began as a manor house, the first recorded building constructed about 1183, by Bishop Pudsey. The Bishop’s Chapel was constructed in c1190, originally as a banquet hall.
The house was converted into a castle in the 14th century when the stone wall surrounding Auckland Park was constructed. The first map reference to the Castle is found in the Gough (Bodleain Map) of c1360.
During the 15th century, the College of St. Andrew’s, that had been located in South Church moved up to Auckland Castle. Several works projects were undertaken by various Bishops within the Palace grounds, including Bishop Cosin’s conversion of the banquet hall into the current Chapel in 1665.
The Park to the north, east and south of Auckland Castle was originally stocked for game hunting by the Bishops. The Park has contained during its lifetime, deer, fish ponds, rabbit warrens and wild white cattle.
Large areas of land to the south of medieval Bishop Auckland belonged to the Pollard family and these areas are still identified as ‘Pollard’s Lands’ on early OS Maps.
One key crossing point of the River Wear to the medieval settlement was the location of the current Newton Cap Bridge (also known as Spylaw Bridge).
The bridge was built by Bishop Spylaw in the late 14th century at what had probably become established as an important crossing point.
The core of the medieval settlement stretched from the Town Head at the top of Newton Cap Bank in the west, across to Auckland Castle in the east. It would have comprised High Bondgate, North Bondgate and Fore Bondgate with the Market Place at the west end.
The Market Place and Bondgates originally formed a continuous, open village green between the north side of the existing Back Bondgate and the south side of the existing Fore Bondgate.
The first houses seem to have been built along High Bondgate and Fore Bondgate. The long but narrow plots, still partially preserved today, reflect the medieval holdings of the ‘bondsmen’ (those working on the estate of the Bishop) and other crafts or tradesmen, that are centred on the central spine of the town.
The survival of such plot patterns at the eastern end of North Bondgate (near Wear Chare) and at the western end of High Bondgate (Newton Cap Bank/Bridge Street end), combined with early OS Map research, suggest that the northern side of High and North Bondgate once had a similar plot layout that was lost in subsequent developments of the village green and more recently, changes to road layouts.
Originally, the wealthiest houses developed around the Market Place, with others spread throughout the area. Poorer accommodation was also spread between the wealthy inhabitants.
More wealthy houses expanded to the west, away from the palace end towards the other end of the village green. The village green and Market Place were filled in with additional buildings well before the mid-19th century. There do not appear to be any early medieval buildings remaining in the centre of the Market Place/Bondgates.
The alignment of the Bondgates with the topography of the ridge and their focus on the castle show the original relationship between the castle precinct and external settlement.
Today, the street connection to the Castle is cut short by the 19th century Town Hall, St Anne’s Church and the Market Place, a complex of buildings which now forms the western, focal end of the Bondgates.
There is reference to early use of this area at the western end of the village green in the location of Bake House Lane behind St Anne’s Church – apparently the site of a 15th century public bake house.
An account of Bishop Auckland in the Boldon Book from 1183 mentions 22 villagers, including a cobbler, a miller and a smith. It can be assumed that at least some of the workshops were located close to a source of running water.
A mill is mentioned on the parklands belonging to the Bishop’s castle as early as 1459. It is assumed that the River Gaunless that runs through the park area would have offered suitable milling and other industrial sites.
It is clear from early OS Maps that there was at least one mill on the River Gaunless, adjacent to the Gaunless Bridge and west of Durham Road at Gib Chare. It is likely there would have been several mills located on the Gaunless in medieval times.
The village growth was gradual but constant. Development stretched from the Bondgates, perpendicular and to the south along Newgate Street. The Bondgate area was accessed from the western end by Newton Cap Bank, also referred to as Town Head.
The road to Newton Cap Bank and the western end of the Bondgates and village green traversed uphill from the 14th century Newton Cap Bridge (Spylaw Bridge).
Access from the eastern end was by Wear Chare that wound itself up from the curve of the River Wear at the Batts on the southern river bank.
The Batts area down by the River Wear was for a long period heavily populated, but was severely affected by a flood in 1771 that destroyed many structures on the banks of the Wear. There is little housing and few residents there today.
The earliest known surviving house in Bishop Auckland is located on the south side of High Bondgate, dating to the 16th century.
Development in the Market Place and surrounds during the Post-Medieval period appears to have been strong, particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries, when much building took place at the Castle, as well as around the Market Place.
Development in the Castle area during the 17th century included the Castle Lodge on the south side of the Gatehouse and within the Market Place area, a number of inns survive from this period, despite extensive alterations to the fabric of the individual hotels.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Bishop Auckland was a flourishing market town with a market hall, market cross and a mix of more industrial businesses such as tanners, coopers, and yarn manufactures that were supplemented by the local cottage industry.
The contrast between market town and industrial workshops seem to have led to a social split with the castle and Market Place attracting wealthier settlement towards the east and houses of lower social status concentrated in the area to the west around Town Head.
During the 18th century, there were even more marked improvements within the Castle complex, with the construction of the Gothic Revival Gatehouse at the entrance to the Castle, the wall by Bishop Wyatt within the Castle grounds and the walled gardens on the east side of Durham Road.
The 18th century also saw the redesign of Auckland Park to its current designed landscape including the construction of the Deer House and redirection of the River Gaunless as part of the design scheme, with new bridge over the Gaunless to the east of Jock’s Bridge.
Other developments during the 18th century within the Market Place include the Post Chaise Hotel and the building of the prominent Georgian house ‘The Elms’ set back from Silver Street with Neo-Classical detailing.
St Anne’s Church received a square tower in 1797 under Bishop Barrington – the ground floor of the tower became the Market House, replacing the ancient market cross. The lock-up for the town was in the base of the tower.
With the Market Place and Bondgates containing a mixture of residential and commercial, the gradual development along Newgate Street seems to have been mainly commercial during the Post-Medieval period.
With the diminishing feudal powers of the Bishops in the 18th century, the village had developed into a market town with about 250 houses by 1700, and attracted weekly markets.
The manufacturing of besoms and other wickerwork using heather seems to have been a particular speciality, with businesses in the Town Head area.
The modern-day Etherley Lane area was primarily agricultural land during this time, as was the area south of Durham Chare, including the land now containing King James I Academy.
19th Century and the Industrial Revolution
By 1801, the economy of the area was still largely based on agriculture and cottage industry. However, mining had long been established in the Bishop Auckland area, and with the industrialisation of the work processes in the second half of the 18th century, more and more mines were opened up in the immediate vicinity.
Coal mining expansion of the Durham Coalfield and small pits around Bishop Auckland (the last of which closed in the 1960s) required improved methods of transportation and the growth of the railways catered for this need.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the long Roman Dere Street became a toll road for and a number of coaching inns grew up in the town.
The railway line through Bishop Auckland was established by 1843. Rapid growth of the railway continued during the second half of the 19th century to result in a network of seven lines.
Bishop Auckland became a hub of industry and transport and during this time, the area became fully industrialised and was attracting labourers and their families, many from Scotland and Ireland.
Reflecting the increased wealth of the town, there were a number of large public building works carried out during the 19th century within Bishop Auckland.
This is best reflected in the rebuilding of St Anne’s in 1846, the construction of the Town Hall on the Market Place in 1861, both by public subscription, and the construction of the Newton Cap Viaduct in 1857.
Other building works included the rebuilding of the Beadhouses behind St Anne’s Church and the construction of fine commercial buildings on the Market Place, such as the former Barclay’s Bank and the Old Bank Chambers.
There was also a large Auction Mart located off the west side of Newgate Street, in the area of the current Newgate Shopping Centre.
Industrial expansion during the 19th century effectively transformed the township of Bishop Auckland to what we see today. These substantial building projects changed the centre of the town, transformed the Market Place and altered street layout and relationships with the installation and extension of the railway.
Conversely, there are reports that due to this rapid increase in industry and influx of workers and their families, there was also a housing shortage, drainage problems and resultant health issues within the town.
Subsequently, there were key areas of increased residential development to the west of Etherley Lane towards Newgate Street with the construction of many terrace houses along new streets established on formerly agricultural land.
Terrace housing was also constructed to the west of Newgate Street with new construction north of the cricket ground and Grammar School.
Grander Victorian and Edwardian villas and mansions were built largely on the outskirts of the industrial revolution township and are still seen today along Etherley Lane and Durham Road. The majority of these larger houses were constructed between about 1850 and 1890.
The 19th century also saw a proliferation in the building and rebuilding of church buildings throughout the town, including the Wesleyan Chapel in Back Bondgate that was constructed in 1866 (now demolished).
In the centre of Bishop Auckland’s historic Market Place, is the Town Hall – a superb, refurbished library and arts complex.
On Newgate Street once stood the Eden Theatre, managed for several years by Arthur Jefferson, the father of Stan Laurel.
Stan was baptised in St. Peters Church and went to school at King James I Grammar School.
At the turn of the century, Arthur Stanley Jefferson lived briefly in Bishop Auckland, and was later sent back here to the Grammar School – he later left for America and changed his name to Stan Laurel.
The Barrington School in the Market Place was founded in 1810, and also achieved international fame when the Tsar of Russia sent a delegation to study its methods.
The Grammar School had a famous pupil in 1826 when the future Lord Armstrong of armaments and shipbuilding fame was sent to Bishop Auckland to study here.
At some time in the 15th Century the College of St. Andrew’s at South Church moved up to the Palace grounds.
The white cottages to the left of the entrance gates form one side of the original quadrangle.
The school which they ran had a checkered history, and was revived in 1604 as King James 1 Grammar School – but, in fact, goes back very much further.
Bishop Bek who preferred the town as his main residence over Durham Castle due to its proximity to hunting grounds later converted the manor house into a castle.
The 20th century saw the rail network drastically reduced and the viaduct which carried the line to Durham became redundant.
An innovatory initiative from the townspeople resulted in the viaduct’s transformation to a road bridge.
Bishop Auckland was nationally known in the 20th century for the achievements of the football club which held an unrivalled record in the Amateur Cup.
Bishop Auckland FC appeared in the final 18 times, and winning 10 times, including a memorable three years in a row in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Their national status was so high that after the Munich air disaster, three of the Bishop Auckland FC players were asked to join Manchester United to help re-establish their team.
The town is located in the Wear & Tees division of the Durham Constabulary, and served by the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service and North East Ambulance Service.
The town stands high above a meander in the River Wear, commanding spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Bishop Auckland is also the gateway into Weardale.
The town is served by Bishop Auckland railway station which arrived in 1843. It marks the point where the Tees Valley Line becomes the Weardale Railway.
Much of the future prosperity of the town was due to it being the centre of a rail transportation network of seven lines.
Railway services to the area reduced significantly during the 20th century. The Newton Cap railway viaduct, which carried the line to Durham, became redundant in the late 1960s. This was linked to the decline in coal mining and large scale industry in Bishop Auckland and the change of the town to a more service and shopping hub.
Much work was undertaken at the west end of the Bondgates for the reopening of the Viaduct for road traffic. Several historic buildings were demolished for the construction of the main road to the viaduct in the 1980s and the roadway was expanded by 4 metres across its width to accommodate footpaths.
Conversion to road traffic was completed and the viaduct reopened in 1994-5. The road cut through the west end of the Bondgates and continues the A689 road down through the upper part of the town, effectively bypassing the historic core of Bishop Auckland. A number of historic buildings have also been progressively lost along the north side of North Bondgate, where the current public car park and disused plots of land are located today.
There has been some change within the Market Place during the 20th century including changes to the road layout and use of the Market Place, particularly during the last three decades and in to the twenty first century.
Changes have included change of road access around the Town Hall to avoid Newgate Street and improved parking within the Market Place, along with maintaining pedestrian-only areas within the Market Place.
Between 1920 and 1939, there was a major road infrastructure alteration at the centre of Bishop Auckland. Durham Road was diverted and extended north to where Castle Chare meets the Market Place near the entrance gates to Auckland Castle.
This caused the western of the two walled gardens for the Castle to be halved and the road built up on an embankment. At this time, Castle Chare continued to run alongside Durham Road south to Gib Chare.
Traffic was always an issue in the Market Place, especially during market days and there were conflicts with bus use of the area. This was alleviated when the new bus station was constructed north of Tenters Street in the 1980s.
The Kingsway was extended post 1980s to the north to link with Durham Road and form a further diversion away from the historic Market Place.
Development of the town continued in the beginning of the 20th century. By 1920, more terrace housing had been established to the east of Etherley Lane, especially in the southern portion of Etherley Lane within the Conservation Area.
Grey Street was also extended to the south, with further terrace housing here and in adjacent streets next to the railway line.
By 1920, even the auction mart in the centre of the town to the west of Newgate Street had largely been taken over by housing.
More housing was constructed in the Batts area with larger houses along Durham Road.
During the first half of the 20th century, particularly during the Interwar and Post Second World War years, new housing was constructed and this is interspersed throughout the town.
This 20th century housing lies on the outer edges of the conservation area boundaries and these buildings are largely neutral in their impact on the earlier streetscapes and building forms that dominate the character of the conservation area.
There is more recent housing in the area of the former Gaunless Mill, between the Gaunless Bridge and the King James I Academy site.
This housing, constructed since the late 1980s, forms a subdivision of modern detached houses along the Gaunless, former mill race and on the site of the former mill. There has been a gradual building of new houses throughout the century along Durham Road.
One major development of this period was the Girl’s County School, built in 1910 near the existing King James I Grammar School building.
By 1920, the new, larger King James I School was constructed to the south of the existing school buildings. Substantial extensions had been made and new buildings constructed at all of the school buildings on the site by 1939, with further additions again by 1962.
The largest 20th century alteration to the Newgate Street shopping area was the construction of the Newgate Shopping Centre in 1983.
This building, including multi-storey car park caused extensive demolition behind the west side of Newgate Street and the loss of various buildings, including terrace housing, halls, remnants of the auction mart and other businesses.
If your interest is shopping, you will not be disappointed. Bishop Auckland currently has over 200 shops and over 50 cafes, restaurants take-aways and pubs.
Venture to the south end of Newgate Street or into Fore Bondgate for specialist shops you just won’t find on most high streets.
If you are interested in history, Bishop Auckland has it all.