Auckland Tower to launch 20 October 2018, with sneak peeks in July and September

Auckland Castle to open Spring 2019

With construction well underway, new dates have now been announced for the launch of The Auckland Project’s purpose-built welcome centre, Auckland Tower, and the re-opening of 900 year-old Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland.

Auckland Castle 

Auckland Castle, once a private palace for the Prince Bishops of Durham, will re-open to the public in spring 2019, following a multi-million pound conservation programme to recapture its former Georgian Gothic grandeur.  

It had originally been hoped that this extensive work would be complete in time for Christmas, however the complexities of working with an ancient structure and the ongoing discovery of hidden historic features has led to a small adjustment in the timescales, as The Auckland Project’s CEO, David Maddan, explains.

“Since work began in September 2016, Auckland Castle has continued to throw up a number of fascinating surprises,” David said, “starting with the discovery that the Scotland Wing had no foundations, which meant we needed to underpin the entire structure before any of the planned work could commence. 

“In the months that followed our contractor Meldrum Construction Services Ltd has continued to uncover hidden historical features, from coats of arms and fireplaces dating back to the 15th century, to hidden staircases and former windows.

“As a result of such discoveries our work programme has had to be repeatedly adapted to ensure these intriguing and unpredictable finds could be documented and protected wherever possible.

“It is this ongoing succession of relatively small but necessary changes that has ultimately combined to create a shift in the overall timescales, which will now see Auckland Castle open to the public in spring 2019.”

The conservation of Auckland Castle is supported by a £11.4m grant from National Lottery Players via the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as the Heritage Conservation Trust, Sir James Knott Trust, The Charles Hayward Foundation, The Headley Trust, The Linbury Trust, The Rothschild Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust and Richard Oldfield. 

Work at the Castle is currently being carried out by Gateshead-based Meldrum Construction Services Ltd, with the site due to be handed back to The Auckland Project in early 2019. 

From there, the charity’s Curatorial Team will work alongside expert craftspeople to dress the space, using sumptuous fabrics and furnishings to reflect its former Georgian Gothic opulence and hanging more than 50 artworks, including Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons, which have been housed at the Castle for more than 250 years.

Auckland Tower 

Auckland Tower, which will serve as the welcome centre for the wider Auckland Project visitor destination will open on Saturday, 20 October 2018. 

Before that, there will be two chances to take a sneak peek inside the unique site, with an Auckland Tower Town Update event on Saturday, 21 July 2018 and a special community event on Saturday, 29 September 2018.

It was previously expected that the Tower would be complete in time for July’s event, however the complexity of the structure and impact of the weather has meant work will now be ongoing into the autumn, as The Auckland Project’s Property Director, Chris Blacklock explains.

“The unique design of Auckland Tower has brought with it some unusual challenges, making it very difficult to predict the exact timescale of the building programme,” Chris said. 

“That, coupled with the harsh weather we had earlier in the year, including high winds and snow that were particularly dangerous for a structure stretching 29m high, has meant we will not be fully complete for 21 July as originally hoped.

“We are however keen to ensure the public have a chance to venture inside the building as soon as it is safe to do so, and, in partnership with VEST Construction, are committed to opening the doors on 21 July and 29 September to offer a sneak preview, ahead of the official launch in October.”

Work on Auckland Tower, supported by Headley Trust, began in February 2017, following the appointment of Bishop Auckland building and engineering firm, VEST Construction, as the main contractor. 

The building’s unusual, modern design by award-winning architects Niall McLaughlin, reflects that of a great wooden siege engine, standing proudly against the walls of Auckland Castle and effectively opening up the former private palace for the Prince Bishops of Durham by creating a more direct link between it and the town.

Once complete Auckland Tower will serve as a starting point for visitors to Auckland Castle and all of The Auckland Project’s forthcoming attractions, including the Spanish Gallery, Walled Garden and Faith Museum, with a 15m high viewing platform offering unrivalled views across the destination, Bishop Auckland and the wider region beyond.

Visitors will have their first opportunity to venture into Auckland Tower with the Town Update event for Bishop Auckland residents running from 10am to 3pm on Saturday, 21 July.  This includes a chance to learn more about the building’s unique design and the construction work in progress, as well as hear what the tower will be used for and how to get involved with The Auckland Project as a whole.

A special community event at Auckland Tower will also be available on a drop in basis to coincide with Bishop Auckland Town Council’s Produce and Horticultural Show and Bishop Auckland Town Team’s Celebrating Together event on Saturday, 29 September 2018.

The official launch of Auckland Tower will take place on Saturday, 20 October 2018, with a day of activities still to be announced.   

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