Bishop Auckland

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Bishop Auckland (pron.: /ˈbɪʃəp ˈɔːklənd/) is a market town and civil parish in County Durham in north east England. It is located about 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Darlington and 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Durham at the confluence of the River Wear with its tributary the River Gaunless. According to the 2001 census, Bishop Auckland has a population of 24,392.

Much of the town’s early history surrounds the bishops of Durham and the establishment of a hunting lodge, which later became the main residence of the Bishops of Durham. This link with the Bishops of Durham is reflected in the first part of the town’s name.

During the Industrial Revolution, the town grew rapidly as coal mining took hold as an important industry. The subsequent decline of the coal mining industry in the late twentieth century has been blamed for a fall in the town’s fortunes in other sectors. Today, the largest sector of employment in the town is manufacturing.

Since 1 April 2009, the town’s local government has come from the Durham County Council Unitary Authority. The unitary authority replaced the previous Wear Valley District Council and Durham County Council. Bishop Auckland is located in the Bishop Auckland parliamentary constituency. The town has a town-twinning with the French town of Ivry-sur-Seine.

The first part of the name, “Bishop”, refers to the land being owned by and the town being the residence of the Bishop of Durham. However, the derivation of “Auckland” is less clear. One suggestion is that it is derived from “Alclit“, “Alcluith” or “Alcleat“. This is similar to Alclut or Alclyde, an early name for Dumbarton, which means “rock on the Clyde” or “cliff on the Clyde”. It is believed that Clyde may have been an earlier Celtic name for the river today known as the Gaunless, which flows close to the town. Auckland is also used in the settlements of St Helen Auckland, West Auckland and St Andrew Auckland, an old name for South Church, all of which are along the path of the Gaunless. The name Gaunless itself is of later Norse origin, meaning useless. It is believed that this derives from the river’s inability to power a mill, sustain fish or create fertile floodplains.

A second suggestion is that Auckland derives from the Norse Aukland meaning additional land. This could refer to the area being extra land granted to the Bishop of Durham by King Canute in around 1020. A further suggestion is that Auckland derives from “Oakland“, referring to the presence of forests.

The earliest known reference to Bishop Auckland itself is around 1000AD as land given to the Earl of Northumberland for defending the church against the Scots. It is also mentioned in 1020 as a gift given to the Bishop of Durham by King Canute. However, a village almost certainly existed on the town’s present site long before this, with there being evidence of church on the site of St Andrew’s Church in South Church as early as the seventh century. Furthermore, the Romans had a look-out post where Auckland Castle is sited today and a 10 acre (0.04 km²) fort at nearby Binchester. There is also evidence of possible Iron Age settlements around the town, together with finds of Bronze Age, Neolithic and Mesolithic artefacts.

Much of the town’s history surrounds its links with the Bishops of Durham. In 1083, Bishop William de St-Calais expelled a number of canons from Durham. Some of these settled in the area and established a collegiate church. Around 1183 Bishop Pudsey established a manor house in the town, with a great hall being completed in 1195 on the site occupied by St Peter’s Chapel today. 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 grounds of the castle were noted as being large enough to contain 16000 men ahead of the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.

Between 1283 and 1310, Bek was also responsible for ordering the replacement of the collegiate church established in 1183 with the Church of St Andrew that stands in South Church today, together with accommodation for the canons; the building known today as the East Deanery.

The collegiate church also appears to have supported a school. The collegiate church was re-organised under Bishop Langley in 1428 and at some point in the same century moved to the castle grounds. The college and its school were finally dissolved in the 15th century.

The school was not revived until the reign of King James I when in 1604 Anne Swifte petitioned the King to found a school and the Free Grammar School of King James, the direct descendant of today’s King James I school, was established. Although, the school’s early location is unknown, in 1638 Bishop Morton granted the school space in an old chapel in the Market Place.

Also in 1604, James’s son, the future King Charles I made the first of three visits he would make to the town during his life. On this visit, his first to England, he was entertained by Bishop Matthew. James himself stayed in Auckland Castle between 17 and 19 April 1617. Later, on 8 May, at Durham Castle King James is reputed to have rebuked Bishop William James so badly that the Bishop returned to Auckland Castle and died three days later.

Charles’s second visit to the town was on his way to Scotland on 31 May 1633, when he was entertained by Bishop Morton. His third visit on 4 February 1647 was in less lavish circumstances, as a prisoner. Morton had fled the town in 1640 and the castle was empty. Consequently, the king had to stay in a public house off the Market Place owned by Christopher Dobson.

After the dis-establishment of the Church of England, at the end of the first civil war, Auckland Castle was sold to Sir Arthur Hazelrig, who demolished much of the castle, including the chapel, and built a mansion. After the restoration of the monarchy, the new Bishop of Durham, John Cosin, in turn demolished Hazelrig’s mansion and rebuilt the castle converting the banqueting hall into the chapel that stands today.

By 1801, the town had a population of 1861. At the end of the eighteenth century the town had no notable roads other than the Roman road and little trade beyond weaving. Although, coal mining existed on a small-scale had existed as early as 1183 when it is mentioned in the Boldon Book, it was limited by the lack of an easy way to transport coal away from the area. All this changed with the arrival railways in the early nineteenth century, which allowed large scale coal mining. The railways allowed coal to be mined, and then transported to the coast before being put onto ships to London and even abroad.

Around the same time, the Bishop, Shute Barrington was a keen proponent of the use of education to improve the social and moral circumstances of the lower social classes. He used £70,000 received from lead mining royalties in Weardale to fund the establishment of a number of schools in the area. One of these schools was the Bishop Barrington School, one of the town’s three comprehensive schools today. The Bishop Barrington School opened on 26 May 1810, the Bishop’s own birthday. The school even allowed girls to attend until the age of 11 years. Barrington’s support of education for the poor was not without controversy. Some suggested education of the poor would lead people to question their position in society, others even blamed it for the French Revolution.

Barrington’s successor, William van Mildert was involved in the creation of Durham University. Durham Castle was donated to the new university and Auckland Castle, usually the preferred residence by successive Bishops, became the Bishop of Durham’s official residence in 1832. However, the influence of the Prince Bishops of Durham was on the wane and there was pressure for reform. Van Mildert would be the last Prince Bishop. Shortly after his death, in 1836, the position was stripped of its ancient powers and wealth.

By 1851 the population of the town had more than doubled to 5112. A great proportion of the population working in ironworks and collieries. By 1891, the population had doubled again. In the second half of the nineteenth century there were typically around 60 collieries in the area open at any one time. By the turn of the twentieth century 16,000 people were employed in the mining industry in the area.

The town also became an important centre for rail, with large amounts of minerals such as coal, limestone and ironstone mined in the surrounding area passing through the town on the way to the coast. In the neighbouring town of Shildon large numbers were employed in the railways, were a railway engine works were established.

By the early years of the twentieth century coal mining started to go into decline as coal reserves started to become exhausted. By the end of the 1920s unemployment had hit 27% and the population too had started to decline, as colliery employment had halved compared with ten years previously. With the onset of the Great Depression unemployment rose to 60% in 1932 before easing back to 36% in 1937. The Second World War offered a temporary reprieve for the coal industry, however, after the war the decline continued. The last deep colliery in the area closed in 1968, although the much more mechanised, and less labour intensive, surface level opencast mining did continue.

Equally, the railways that had also supported the area were also scaled back, ultimately culminating in the closure of Shildon’s Wagon works in 1984 which resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs.

For a large part of the county’s history, the powers held by the Bishop of Durham meant that the county virtually operated as an independent state from the rest of England. A steward of Bishop Antony Bek in the thirteenth century is quoted as saying England had two kings; the king and the Bishop of Durham. The Bishops of Durham were not stripped of the last of their temporal powers until shortly after the death of Bishop William Van Mildert in 1836.

At the end of the nineteenth century the Local Government Act 1894 created Bishop Auckland Urban District council. From 1894 to 1974, the town was governed by the Urban District council within the administrative county of Durham. The district was enlarged to include a number of surrounding settlements in 1937 when Auckland Rural District and Willington Urban District were abolished. The Urban District was scrapped under the Local Government Act 1972 and replaced by a two tier district and county council system. Under the system Bishop Auckland was governed by Wear Valley District Council at the district level and Durham County Council at the county level.

A third tier was added at the May 2007 local elections when a new town council was established. After the elections, the council elected Barbara Laurie as the town’s first mayor.

Under proposals approved by the government on 25 July 2007, Durham County Council and Wear Valley District Council were replaced in 2009 by a single unitary authority serving the whole of County Durham.

The town is a part of the Bishop Auckland parliamentary constituency. The town is in the North East England European Parliament constituency.

Bishop Auckland is twinned with the French town of Ivry-sur-Seine, whilst the wider Wear Valley district is twinned with Bad Oeynhausen in Germany.

Bishop Auckland is located on the Durham coalfield at the confluence of the River Wear with its tributary the River Gaunless. The town nestles in the rivers’ valley about 100 metres (330 ft) above sea level. Besides this the town is all but is surrounded on all sides by hills ranging in height from around 150 metres (490 ft) above sea level to over 220 metres (720 ft) above sea level.

Bishop Auckland is located about 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Darlington and 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Durham. The town is served by Bishop Auckland railway station, which marks the point where the Tees Valley Line becomes the Weardale Railway. The town is not served directly by any motorways.

At the end of the eighteenth century the town is noted as having little trade beyond weaving. The first mention of coal mining in the area is in the Boldon Book of 1183. However, early coal mining was limited by the lack of an easy way to transport coal away from the area. The arrival of the railways transformed the town as it allowed coal to be mined, and then transported to the coast before being put onto ships to London and even abroad. At the start of the twentieth century 16,000 people were employed in the mining industry in the area. However, by 1915 the coal industry in the town had started to decline as coal reserves started to become exhausted. The last deep colliery in the area closed in 1968.

Today, with the decline of the Durham coalfield, manufacturing has been left as the largest sector of employment in the town, accounting for 24.6% of the town’s employment.

The town also traditionally had a strong retail sector, as one of the county’s main population centre’s shoppers were attracted from smaller settlements on the Durham coalfield for miles around. However, the effect of the decline in the coal mining industry has been felt in the retail sector. Together with competition from local shopping malls such as the MetroCentre in Gateshead, the decline in the mining industry has been blamed for a downturn in the fortunes of retailers, with commentators lamenting the number of down market stores and charity shops in the town centre. In response, numerous initiatives to regenerate the town centre have been proposed including the launch of the Bishop Auckland Town Centre Forum, and the 2006 regeneration master plan drawn up by Red Box Group, which was sponsored by Wear Valley District Council and the regional development agency One NorthEast.

Notable employers in the town include Ebac, which is headquartered in the town and employs 350 people.

The town has a number of Grade I listed buildings. The grounds of Auckland Castle alone contain seven such structures. Additionally Escomb Saxon Church, St Andrew’s parish church, St Helen’s church, St Helen Hall, West Auckland Manor House, the East Deanery and the 14th century Bishop Skirlaw bridge are all Grade I listed. Other notable buildings include the town hall, a Victorian railway viaduct and Binchester Roman fort.

Auckland Castle (often known locally as The Bishop’s palace), has been the official residence of the Bishop of Durham since 1832. However, its history goes back much earlier, being established as a hunting lodge for the Prince Bishops of Durham. The castle is surrounded by 800 acres (3.2 km2) of parkland, which was originally used by the Bishops for hunting and is today open to the public. The castle and its grounds contain seven Grade I listed structures.

The castle’s long dining room is home to 12 of the 13 17th century portraits of Jacob and his 12 sons painted by Francisco de Zurbarán, which were saved by Bishop Trevor in 1756. Trevor was unable to secure the 13th, Benjamin, so commissioned Arthur Pond to produce a copy, which hangs alongside the 12 other originals.

Auckland Castle also provides the setting for Lewis Carroll’s story “A Legend of Scotland“.

The route of the Roman road Dere Street passes straight through the middle of the town on its way to the nearby Roman Fort at Binchester. Binchester Roman Fort, or Vinovia as it was known to the Romans, has one of the best preserved examples of a Roman military bath house hypocaust in the country. Bishop Auckland’s main shopping street, Newgate Street, together with Cockton Hill Road and Watling Road faithfully follow the route of Dere Street. Note that Watling Road should not be confused with the Roman road Watling Street, which is in the South of England.

The Town Hall is a “Gothic style” Victorian Building overlooking the town’s market place and is Grade II* listed. After being abandoned and then condemned for demolition in the 1980s, the town hall was fully restored in the early 1990s. It now houses the town’s main public library, a theatre, an art gallery, tourist information centre and a café-bar.

The town also has a Grade II listed Victorian railway viaduct crossing the River Wear. At 105 feet (32 m) high, the viaduct provides views of the surrounding countryside below as well as Auckland Castle, the Bishop’s Park and the Town Hall on approaching the town from the Viaduct. It was originally built in 1857 to carry the Bishop Auckland to Durham City railway line across the River Wear and the Newton Cap Bank that leads down to the river. The railway closed in 1968 and the viaduct fell into a period of disuse and was at one point threatened with demolition. However in 1995, the viaduct was converted for vehicle use to take traffic on the A689 between Bishop Auckland and Crook, relieving the Grade I listed fourteenth century single lane Bishop Skirlaw bridge which sits in the valley below it.

The nearby village of Escomb is home to a complete Anglo-Saxon church. It is believed the church was built between the years 670 and 690. Much of the stone used to construct the church came from the nearby Roman fort at Binchester, with some stones having Roman markings on them. The church is a Grade I listed structure.

St Andrew’s church located in the adjoining village of South Church is the largest church in County Durham and a Grade I listed building. The church was built in the thirteenth century and acted as a collegiate church.

The town has links with the birth of the railways, with the original 1825 route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway passing through West Auckland and Timothy Hackworth, a well-known locomotive builder, built steam locomotives in the neighbouring town of Shildon.

Today, Bishop Auckland railway station still provides passenger services being located at the end of the Tees Valley Line. Since May 2010 it has been re-connected with the Weardale Railway which provides passenger services up the valley to Stanhope. The town centre had a large railway goods yard until the 1972. Freight traffic ceased to use the line between completely in 1993 when Blue Circle cement stopped using the line to transport cement from its works in Eastgate.

The town has 3 Grade I listed churches, the Church of St Helen, the Church of St Andrew, and St Peter’s chapel at Auckland Castle. Another Grade I listed church, the Saxon church at Escomb is also close to the town.  Additionally, the town has 3 grade II listed churches, Bishop Auckland Methodist Church on Cockton Hill Road,  St Anne’s church next to the town hall in the Market Place, and St Peter’s Church on Princes Street.

Bishop Auckland is famous for its amateur football team, Bishop Auckland AFC, which won the FA Amateur Cup 10 times in the Trophy’s 80 year history, having appeared in the Final on 18 occasions. Bishop Auckland Football Club also helped out Manchester United after the Munich Air Crash in 1958 by donating three of their players, Derek Lewin, Bob Hardisty and Warren Bradley. In return in 1996, Manchester United played a friendly against Bishop Auckland to help raise money when the club was threatened with bankruptcy after a member of a rival team sued over an injury. In 2007 Manchester United donated floodlights to Bishop Auckland Football Club, which the club has added to their new ground.

The adjacent village of West Auckland is notable for having been home to the team to win one of the first international footballing competitions, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, sometimes referred to as The First World Cup. Its team of local coal miners won the cup in the Easter of 1909 and again in 1911, defeating the mighty Juventus in the final. This story was portrayed in the 1982 television movie “The World Cup – A Captain’s Tale” made by Tyne Tees Television and starring Dennis Waterman. The cup itself was stolen from West Auckland Town F.C. in 1994 and a replica now resides in West Auckland working men’s club.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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