Archaeologists from Durham University are exploring the grounds of Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, which served as the private palace of the Prince Bishops of Durham for more than 900 years.

The team, made up of staff from the University’s Archaeological Services department, as well as more than 70 volunteers from regional charity, Auckland Castle Trust, have already unearthed a host of fascinating finds at the Castle’s Walled Garden, originally commissioned in the 17 th Century by Bishop John Cosin.

Among the most exciting findings are the footings of Bishop Richard Trevor’s pioneering 1750s Pinery-Vineries. Much altered over the following centuries, these innovative spaces allowed the Georgian Bishops to enjoy exotic fruits, particularly pineapples, fuelled by the plentiful coal supplies of County Durham.

Additionally the remnants of an elaborate system of flues and furnaces that would have been used to heat Bishop Richard Barrington’s Peach House in the 1790s have been found, allowing for the growth of vines, figs and other soft fruits. M/F 2.

There is also evidence showing how these pioneering heating systems evolved throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, with a series of boilers and runs of cast iron pipes eventually being used to circulate hot water instead of the original hot gases.

Historical gardens expert, Harry Beamish who has been helping to interpret the findings of the dig, said: “The Walled Garden at Auckland Castle was one of the first of its kind in North East England and really helped to set the standard of what was to follow.

“The excavation being carried out by Durham University’s Archaeological Services and Auckland Castle Trust not only support the plans originally drawn up by Jeremiah Dixon for Bishop Egerton in 1772, but have added considerable detail to the construction and subsequent changes.”

An interpretation of the findings from the Walled Garden, uncovered over the past four months, will be displayed as part of a reimagining of the site, which gets underway later this year.

Due for completion by 2018, this work will include the addition of a new, contemporary restaurant, which will utilise fruit and vegetables from the Walled Garden as the Bishops once did and forms part of the wider restoration of Auckland Castle.

Following completion of the Walled Garden excavation – one of the most substantial of its kind in the UK – the archaeological team are now moving on to explore the historic curtain walls of Auckland Castle, as well as its Scotland Wing, which will soon be extended to house the UK’s first museum exploring a history of faith in the British Isles.

Chris Ferguson, Curatorial Director, Auckland Castle Trust, said: “I’m very excited at the scale of work already undertaken by the team from Archaeological Services at Durham University and the Auckland Castle Trust volunteers.

“The excavation of the Walled Garden is the first major component of our overarching historical and archaeological research into the history of Auckland Castle and the surrounding estate and hopefully there are many more fascinating things to find and share with the world.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for an archaeological dig at Auckland Castle is being asked to contact Michele Armstrong, Head of Volunteering at Auckland Castle Trust, on 01388 743790 or email Michele.armstrong@aucklandcastle.org

More details about Auckland Castle Trust’s future plans, including the reimagining of the Walled Garden can also be found online at www.aucklandcastle.org