Bishop Auckland & Auckland Castle~ February 2020 ~ Part 1

A cold yet sunny day out in February had Sophie and I visiting the newly refurbished castle at Bishop Auckland, so get your ☕️ and 🍪 and we’ll do

The History Bit *LONG POST ALERT*

There’s 1,134 years to get through, and a lot of Bishops,so this will be a potted history (again) and here we go!

King Alfred, sort of.

In 886 King Alfred (last seen forgiving Uhtred in The Last Kingdom series 4 🙂 )created the See (area of a bishop’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction) of Durham when he gifts “all the lands between the Were and the Tine to Saint Cuthbert, and to those who should minister in his church, for ever, by which they may have enough to live upon, and not be forced to struggle with want and necessity.” In 1000, St. Cuthbert is laid to rest in Durham. Bishop Aldhun, previously known as the Bishop of Lindisfarne, becomes the first Bishop of Durham.

1020~1021 Bishop Eadmund is the first Bishop of Durham to live on the site of Auckland Castle.

Willy Conk

1071 WIlliam the Conqueror appoints William Walcher the first non-Englishman to hold that See, being a Norman. Walcher increases his power by purchasing the Earldom of Northumbria in 1076. He is known as the first of the Prince Bishops but was murdered in 1080, which led William to send an army into Northumbria to harry the region again. He’d already harried the North once. We’re always harried up here.

William St-Calais

1081 and Willy Conqueror bestows the Bishopery on a Norman monk, William de St-Calais. Too many Williams I think meself. He worked very closely with Willy Conk, going on important missions and suchlike. When Will Conk’s son William Rufus acceded to the throne, St-Calais was given special powers (not like Captain America or Superman etc) and becomes a political and military, as well as religious, leader. He can raise taxes, mint coins and hold his own parliaments. These royal privileges allow the Bishop to govern the north on behalf of the king.

1093 ~ Building work starts on Durham Cathedral, which is still on my list to visit! The building is at the cutting edge of Norman technology and pioneers many new building techniques and architectural features and was completed in 40 years.


1153 and we have Bishop Hugh de Puiset, or Pudsey as he was known, a nephew to King Stephen of England and Henry of Blois. He was chief Justiciar (roughly equivalent to Prime Minister) under King Richard 1st and when Dick began his reign in 1189, Pudsey bought the offices of Earl of Northumbria and Sheriff of Northumberland. In 1183 he commissions a survey of all his holdings, known as the Boldon Buke (Buke is a days of Yore word for ‘Book’) similar to the Domesday Book, detailing all the revenues and obligations owed to him, and showing how rich and powerful he was. Pudsey is known as a builder, working on the Cathedral and building a bridge in Durham, and in 1195 builds a great banqueting hall complete with minstrel’s gallery at Auckland. He also owns hunting rights across his vast estates, a unique privilege only belonging to the king elsewhere. Pudsey’s impressive hall allows him to lavishly entertain his retinue and court following the hunt. (Mmmm banquets!) It is the oldest surviving part of the Castle, now St. Peter’s Chapel.

Edward I

In 1283, Prince Edward, son of Henry III has Anthony Bek esconced as Bishop of Durham. Beks comes from a family of knights, and is noticed by Edward through his eclesiatical work. When Edward goes off on a crusade in 1270, Beks goes with him, and continues to work for him in high office on their return. In 1298 he rides off with Edward to fight in the Battle of Falkirk against the Pesky Scots, led by William Wallace (last seen in Braveheart, with half his face painted blue and an Ozzie accent). They win, and in 1308 Beks pays Galfrid, the Bailiff of Auckland, £148 to “….sumptuously build and incastellate the ancient mannor place of Auckland.” A great Throne Room is constructed and a four storey lodging block, as well as a magnificent two story chapel.

The Throne Room
Edward III

Moving on to 1346, and Edward III is on the throne, and off to Crécy to fight the Pesky French, and Bishop Thomas Hatfield is with him, last of the warring Bishops. In the meantime, the Scottish King David II takes advantage of their absence and Descends upon Durham. 6-7,000 English troops led by the Northern Dukes muster in the Deer Park at Auckland Castle before marching to Durham. They defeat the Scottish troops and capture the Scottish king in the battle of Neville’s Cross. (Which you may remember from this post about Crook House)

Cuthbert Tunstall

In 1530 the Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall, was ordained as the Bishop of Durham, succeding Cardinal Wolsey, by papal decree. Henry VIII is our King now, and suspects Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of treason, largely due to the bishop’s role as advisor to Catherine of Aragon during her divorce trials. Henry had Thomas Cromwell raid Auckland Castle for incriminating evidence against the Bish, but Cuthbert had been forwarned that was going to happen and no treasonable doohickies were found. Tunstall goes on to survive as Prince Bishop through four turbulent Tudor monarchies.

James Pilkington

James Pilkington was the first protestant Bishop of Durham, serving from 1561 until his death in 1576. He is also the first married Bishop when in 1564 he marries Alice Kingsmill. The marriage was carried out privately as Queen Elizabeth is rumoured to dislike married clergy. 

Sir Arthur Hazelrig

From 1642-6 the English Civil War kicked off, the middle part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, In 1646 when this bit was over and Cromwell and his New Model Army had had won and locked up King Charles 1st, the Bishops are stripped of their power and their lands and estates seized. Auckland Castle is sold to Sir Arthur Haselrig, who in spite of being a 2nd Baron, was a parliamentarian who supported Cromwell and became his northern governor, in 1648. Haselrig and his son brought a large amount of property in the north east which included the manor of Bishop Auckland. Haselrig destroyed the medieval Chapel built by Bishop Bek, reputedly with gunpowder, and re-used the stone to begin building his own manor on the site, which never got finished.

John Cosin (1594-1672),

1660 and the monarchy has been restored. Charles II is on the throne and makes John Cosin Bishop of Durham. A loyal Royalist, Cosin had been exiled to France with the court of Queen Henrietta Maria during the English Civil War. Cosin believes that beautiful music, objects and architecture can lead people to God, which leads to accusations of popery, but he was muchly anti the Roman Catholics in his writings. On his arrival at Auckland he sets about repairing what he describes as ‘the ravenous sacrilege of Haselrig.’ He transforms Pudsey’s banqueting hall into St.Peter’s Chapel, (hmm, banqueting or praying, I know which one I’d be doing!) by raising the floor, and replacing the roof. He added the clerestory and screen and commissioned a set of magnificent silver-gilt altar plate (the Auckland Plate), new richly bound copies of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and a tapestry depicting Solomon’s meeting with the Queen of Sheba to be used in worship. (Not a banquet though is it?).

St.Peter’s Chapel
Chapel Ceiling
Nathaniel Crewe

On to 1674 and here comes Bishop Nathaniel Lord Crewe. His tenure as Bishop of Durham saw the first two new parishes to be erected in England since the Reformation, Stockton-on-Tees and Sunderland in 1712. The Church of the Holy Trinity in Sunderland, now redundant, was the base for responsible local government in the growing port town for the first time since the Borough of Sunderland, created by the Bishops of Durham, was crushed by Cromwell. Bishop Crewe installed the organ, which was built by Father Smith, a German Master Organ maker who had emigrated to England in 1667. It is still in the chapel now.

Bishop Richard Trevor

1771 and we have Bishop Trevor in da house. He buys Jacob and his Twelve Sons, a series of paintings of the Jewish patriarchs by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán at auction in London for just over £124. He is outbid for the painting of Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son. Instead he commissions a copy of the painting from Arthur Pond. The Bishop hangs the paintings in his newly re-furbished dining room at Auckland Castle. Bish Trevor is a busy boy, as he also spends a fortune remodelling Auckland Castle and the Deer Park, including a new clock tower to the design of Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby. Trevor employs Jeremiah Dixon of Cockfield (of Mason-Dixon line fame) to lay out the park. Trevor also builds a new bridge over the River Gaunless and the Park’s deerhouse.

4 of the Zurbarán paintings.
The Dining Room

Shute Barrington

Shute was the son of a 1st Viscount Barrington, and rose up the ranks of religious roles to be ordained as Bishop of Durham in 1791. He employs celebrated architect James Wyatt to remodel Auckland Castle in the fashionable Gothic style, and Wyatt creates an impressive processional route from the State Entrance to the Throne Room. The Bishop’s secretary William Emm records the work, noting that ‘no expense has been spared or thought too great to render it comfortable and fit for the residence of a Bishop of Durham.’ These remodelled rooms are used for social occasions, allowing the Bishop to entertain and influence his wide circle of acquaintances. (Mucho banqueting for this chap I think!)

William van Mildert

William van Mildert was the last of the Prince-Bishops. ( there are still Bishops, just not Princey ones.) As part of the University of Durham’s foundation, behind which he was the driving force, he gave Durham Castle to the university, where it became the home of University College. That left Auckland Castle the sole residence of the Bishop of Durham. He was often described as a ‘stormy petrel’ on account of his outspoken expression of his views. In 1831 he naffed off Reformists by leading Bishops in the House of Lords to vote down the Reform Bill. He believed reform would cause ‘strife and disunion, envy and discontent…seditions and heresies, the spirit of insubordination and contempt of all lawful authority.’ For these views the bishops were declared enemies of the people and the people of Durham burnt an effigy of him at the gates of Auckland Castle.


1875 Sees J.B Lightfoot in the post, he was mostly a scholar and theologian and wrote lots and lots of books and articles on religious stuff. He is also responsible for adding stained glass windows and a carved oak altarpiece depicting the lives of the region’s most significant saints, including St Cuthbert and St Hilda. 

Brooke Westcott.

1891 and Brooke Foss Westcott is ordained as the Bishop of Durham. A man with a social conscience he brokers a meeting in Auckland Castle between the mine owners and the union leaders which ends a bitter three month miners’ strike. Calling it the happiest day of his life, he is subsequently the first Bishop of Durham to be invited to address the Durham Miners’ Gala, a tradition continued by many later Bishops.

Hensley Henson

1920 and the controversial Bishop Hensley Henson takes over the dioscese of Durham. A chap not backwards in coming forward, and at Oxford when he was studying he was nicknamed Coxley Cocksure. He was a good guy though, and in 1938 publically criticises the British government for their appeasement of dictators Hitler and Mussolini. He is one of the few public figures brave enough to condemn prime minister Neville Chamberlain for what he terms ‘doing business with a gang of murderers.’ Throughout the 1930s Henson continues to raise awareness of the plight of Jews in Germany.

Bishop Hensley’s desk in his study
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Ian Thomas Ramsey
by Bassano Ltd

Dr Ian Ramsey was a clever chap. He came to Durham as Bishop in 1966 having been a Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at Oxford University. In spite of that he becomes known as ‘the people’s Bishop’ as he is prone to going out into local communities and engaging with people from all walks of life. His speeches in the House of Lords form a significant contribution to the rapidly changing social and political life of Britain in the 1960s, and he speechificates on many topics from advances in medical science to rising hemlines. He is featured in ITV documentary ‘A World of my Own’ in 1969.

Bishop David Jenkins

Another controversial Bishop, David Jenkins is ordained in 1984, under great scrutiny. He had done an interview for the ‘Credo’ tv programme, and the press were reporting he denied the existence of Jesus. The press misrepresented him there, no surprise. He said in an interview: “I wouldn’t put it past God to arrange a virgin birth if he wanted. But I don’t think he did.” He also naffed off Margaret Thatcher by speaking out about the miners strike, asking for compromise and condemning government policies which are ‘indifferent to poverty and powerlessness.’ Thatcher refers to him as ‘cuckoo’.

Brenda and Michael Turnbull.

In the ‘there’s always one’ category, in 1994 Bishop Michael Turnbull was the man in the hot seat. Just before he was enthroned as Bishop, (they still call it that even when. being non-princey) he was asked to give his thoughts on homosexuality in the clergy, and he said it was incompatible withfull-time clergy. Then the News of The World reported Turnbull had previously, in 1968 been convicted of an act of gross indecency with a Yorkshire Farmer. Anyways he was sorry, so he still got the job, and did good works. Brenda, his wife, is the first to develop the castle as a venue, with an exhibition space and facilities for conferences, weddings and other occasions.

Back in 1948 a new Church Commission was set up, and took over the ownership of Auckland Castle, it’s fixtures and fittings. In 1997 they decided to sell the Zurbarán paintings bought by Bishop Trevor which have hung in the Castle since the 1750s. This is vigorously resisted in a fourteen year campaign led by Bishop Auckland Civic Society. The Commissioners don’t stop trying though and again in 2010 they intend to put the paintings up for auction at Sotheby’s for an estimated £15 million.

Jonathon Ruffer

Luckily in 2012, financier and philanthropist Jonathon Ruffer decided to invest in County Durham. He donated £1 million to the Durham Foundation and in 2013 he donated £15 million to preserve Auckland Castle through the Auckland Castle Trust, which he is the chairman of, this included the preservation of the 12 paintings. He donated £18 million to restore the Bishop’s Palace and created a museum on the history of Christianity and faith in Britain.

I think that’s enough for this week, but we’ll continue having a look at Bishop Auckland next time, so stay tooned!

refs:- lots of wiki pages on Bishops


48 thoughts on “Bishop Auckland & Auckland Castle~ February 2020 ~ Part 1

  1. Well its good to know that there is a season 4 of Last Kingdom, I had forgotten to look out for a new season since 3.
    Who would have known that the popular punk bank from Bradford was the namesake of a 17th Century Parliamentary militia. They don’t teach you this stuff at school you know, well they do but if you are me you never took much notice 🙂
    I have to wonder when Bill came about, it might have helped distinguishing all the Williams 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I got the coffee pot on and read. Very interesting piece and yes Willy Conk definitely had the hump with those of you north of the Humber. As if you didnt have enough to worry about with the Scots invading every time you went to the shops..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What rich history! And the B&W shot of St. Peter’s Chapel is incredible. Also like the long dinner shot (partially because I’ve starving right now. I think I’ll have some lunch 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think I’d a £1 for those paintings, let alone £15. Still, tastes differ.

    I’m ashamed to say that I’ve heard of only a couple of those bishops and one of them is David Jenkins, who was in the newspapers every other day during his tenure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Jane, lovely post! I could see myself having dinner in that glorious dinner room and writing on the Bishop’s desk. And of course, wearing the gorgeous outfit from that time!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. William the Conk!The Bish!Love your historys…you should be writing a series for kids (big and small!)Quite interested in Cuthbert and Durham as it crops up a bit in one of my favourite books King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett when the Scots and English wrestle over the shrine to St. Cuthbert as it generate a lot of income via pilgrims and the like I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. William the Conk!The Bish!Love your historys…you should be writing a series for kids (big and small!)Quite interested in Cuthbert and Durham as it crops up a bit in one of my favourite books King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett when the Scots and English wrestle over the shrine to St. Cuthbert as it generate a lot of income via pilgrims and the like I think. Also I LOVE that blue ceiling!

    Liked by 1 person

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