Thursday 31 March 2016 - Friday 15 May 2020
12:00 am

To be a bishop in medieval times was not just a religious calling or a demonstration of great faith. The bishops were leading statesmen, diplomats and military leaders, wielding immense political power on a national and international stage.

Following the Norman Conquest, The Bishops of Durham were granted exceptional political and military powers by the King to guard the northern frontier of England against Scottish invasion.

From his base in Auckland Castle, the Prince Bishop effectively rule the lands between the Tyne and the Tees. He could raise money from taxes, mint his own coins, and hold his own law courts. He was allowed to command an army, levy taxes, mint coins, and hold his own courts. These royal privileges made him the second most powerful man in the country.

Not all Bishops were pious. Bishop Ranulf Flambard (1099-1128) had a reputation for being an immensely able political figure but lacking spiritual conviction. The 12th-century chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, described Flambard as being “addicted to feasts, and carousing” while Archbishop Anselm called him “an illiterate rent collector of the worst possible reputation.” However other bishops, like Richard de Bury (1333-1345) and Walter Skirlaw (1388-1406), were nationally renowned for their theological learning and scholarship.

Many Prince Bishops were considered to be the king’s right-hand man. Bishop Hugh de Puiset (1153-1195), who commissioned the Great Hall, ruled the entire country for a short time in 1189 while Richard I was away on crusade. Bishop Anthony Bek (1284-1310), a skilled military leader and crusader, and second in command to Edward I, led a number of successful campaigns against the Scots. On 10 July 1296 King John of Scotland surrendered to Bishop Bek at Brechin. However Bek’s lust for power led to conflict with the king, who twice stripped him of his bishopric. He was only restored to power when Edward II ascended the throne.

After the ravages of the Civil War, Bishop John Cosin (1660-1672) set about restoring the religious role and national importance of the Prince Bishops. He converted the medieval Great Hall at Auckland Castle into the beautiful St Peter’s Chapel seen today.

The near-absolute power of the Prince Bishops lasted until the death of Bishop Van Mildert in 1836. In 1832, after Parliament passed the Reform Act, which began the dismantling of the Prince Bishops’ powers, Van Mildert gave his other residence, Durham Castle, to the newly founded University of Durham.

The temporal powers of the Prince Bishop of Durham were returned to the Crown as part of the Reform Acts of the 1830s. Despite this, Auckland Castle remained the sole official residence of the Bishop of Durham until 2010.

Friday 1 April 2016 - Saturday 30 November 2019
All Day

A symbol of power and authority, Auckland Castle was built as one of the primary castles and hunting lodges of the Prince Bishop of Durham. Positioned high above the meandering River Wear, Auckland Castle offers commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

The great status of the palace allowed the Prince Bishops to host lavish celebrations and hunting parties, and invite royalty including King John, Edward III, James I, Charles I and Queen Victoria to stay. A private residence until 2012, this once-hidden historical treasure is now open for the public to enjoy.

Auckland Castle is a palace of intimate grandeur. From the 1600s onwards the Prince Bishops used their increasing wealth to create a country retreat that reflected their semi-royal position. A unique part of the building is St. Peter’s, created from a medieval great hall, now Europe’s largest private chapel and the resting place of five bishops.

In the 1700s a succession of Georgian Gothic State Rooms, containing delicate plasterwork and sumptuous furnishings, were created by the renowned English architect James Wyatt. Amongst the finest surviving examples of Wyatt’s Georgian Gothic in the country, they form a state processional route from the entrance to the great Throne Room.

Jacob and his Twelve Sons, an impressive cycle of paintings by Spanish master painter Francisco de Zurbarán, hang in the Long Dining Room. Representing the 12 tribes of Israel they have silently pleaded the case for political, social and religious tolerance since their purchase by Bishop Trevor in 1756.

Permanent displays examine the lives, beliefs and motivations of England’s only Prince Bishops in more detail. An ever-changing temporary exhibition programme, also found within the State Rooms, examines other historical and artistic subjects.

Formal gardens surround the front of the castle while a large Medieval deer park features bridges, fish ponds, an ice house and a charming 18th-century Deer House.

Auckland Castle is now closed to daily visits for major conservation and representation work. It will reopen later in 2019.

Saturday 2 April 2016 - Thursday 29 August 2019
12:00 am

Many of Auckland Castle’s historic interiors are masterpieces of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture, designed for Bishop Shute Barrington by the leading 18th-century architect James Wyatt. Wyatt emphasised the power of the Prince Bishops through the creation of an impressive processional route into the State Rooms.

Entering through the formal State Entrance, visitors climbed the grand staircase from the Gentleman’s Hall, with its commanding views across the River Wear. They were held in the Anteroom before being summoned to approach the Bishop in the Throne Room. Seated upon his throne, the Bishop heard petitions and managed the administration of his extensive lands. This grand space also hosted extravagant celebrations.

Visitors entered the rooms beyond the Throne Room only on the Bishop’s personal invitation. The Long Dining Room houses the jewel of Auckland Castle’s collection, the paintings of Jacob and his Twelve Sons by the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), which have hung here for 250 years.

Sunday 3 April 2016 - Thursday 24 September 2020
12:00 am

Originally a medieval banqueting hall dating from the 13th century, St. Peter’s Chapel features a series of six columns carved from locally sourced Frosterley Marble, which also adorns the Chapel of the Nine Altars at Durham Cathedral. Bishop Cosin added a spectacular 17th-century ceiling and elaborately carved woodwork screen and pulpits.

The interior was changed and enhanced by the Bishops over the subsequent centuries. Bishop Van Mildert, the last of the Prince Bishops, raised the side aisles and added underfloor heating. Bishop Lightfoot added stained glass windows and a carved oak altarpiece depicting the lives of the region’s most significant saints, including St Cuthbert and St Hilda. The coats of arms of all the successive Bishops of Durham hang on the walls of the side aisles.

St Peter’s remains the private chapel of the Bishop of Durham and is regularly used for services.

Tuesday 5 April 2016 - Saturday 31 October 2020
12:00 am

Jacob and his Twelve Sons is an impressive series of thirteen life-size figures by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), a master of the Spanish Golden Age of painting. The paintings have hung in Auckland Castle for 250 years, and remain an enduring symbol of tolerance, freedom and hope. Now held in perpetuity for the people of the North East, the purchase of the paintings in 2010 by Jonathan Ruffer was the beginning of a new era for Auckland Castle.

The story of the paintings’ journey to Auckland Castle is remarkable. Bishop Richard Trevor (1752-1771) bought twelve of the paintings, completed between 1640 and 1644, at an auction in 1756. He was outbid for the thirteenth but employed the prominent artist Arthur Pond to make an exact copy. He then set about transforming the Long Dining Room into an appropriately grand gallery to display his collection.

European art rarely depicts the subject of Jacob and his sons. As told in the Old Testament book of Genesis, Jacob fathered twelve sons, who went on to found the Twelve Tribes of Israel from whom the Jewish people are descended.

As he lay dying, Jacob foretold the destiny of each of his sons and their descendants (Genesis 49). It is this passage, known as the Blessings of Jacob, which provides the basis for Zurbarán’s paintings.

These paintings represent the foundation of the Jewish faith. Yet they were purchased by one of the most important figures in the Church of England, at a time when Jews and other non-Anglican religious groups in Britain were treated with indifference, if not contempt. The purchase and display of the paintings by Bishop Trevor was a meaningful and deliberate act. By surrounding his many influential dinner guests with these imposing and exotic works, the bishop made a public appeal for social, political and religious consideration, which still resonates today.

Jacob and his Twelve Sons were the focus of an in-depth technical and art historical study at the renowned Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. Following the study, supported by The Meadows Foundation and The Frick Collection, the paintings will be displayed at both The Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas, and The Frick Collection in New York, before returning to Auckland Castle in 2018.  The video below shows the paintings being decanted from Auckland Castle ready for their American adventure.

In January 2016, the Open University also produced a film about Zurbarán at Bishop Auckland and this is now available to view online via the Open Arts Archive. 

Wednesday 6 April 2016 - Tuesday 31 December 2019
All Day

The Prince Bishops created Auckland Park over 800 years ago as their own private hunting ground. It was one of the reasons why the Bishops of Durham chose to live at Auckland Castle, rather than in Durham City.

The park has its origins in the medieval hunting grounds of the Prince Bishops, and was much larger than it is today. First mentioned in 1181 in the Boldon Book (a survey of the estates of the Bishopric of Durham), by the Middle Ages the park housed a large herd of deer, as well as Wild Cattle. Its coppiced woodland would have supported the Bishop’s palace, supplying it with wood and charcoal. The 200 acre parkland retains many of the medieval elements, including the fish ponds and woodland paths, providing an important record of how the medieval bishops lived, entertained and hunted.

Over the centuries many Prince Bishops changed the aspect of the park but Richard Trevor, Bishop of Durham from 1752 to 1771, had the greatest impact. He built the Clock Tower and Gatehouse and remodelled the park as a landscape setting to the palace. Bishop Trevor created the Georgian Gothic Deer House as a place to shelter and feed the deer, and also created a first floor dining room from which guests could view the palace and surrounding countryside while enjoying the bishop’s hospitality.

The 18th-century Bishops added other features in the park: beyond one of the stunning bridges which span the River Gaunless you can find the ice house and a stone pyramid that caps an early water supply for the castle.

Following Auckland Castle’s re-opening in 2019 we have ambitions to recreate the beautiful original designs of the park.

A temporary haul road is currently running through the Deer Park to allow access for construction traffic during the conservation. The park remains free and safe for the public to access during this time and visitors are simply advised to take extra care and keep dogs on a lead near the haul road if possible.   The road will be removed entirely once work is complete.

Opening times
Open daily from 7am to 8pm.
After 8pm the main gates will be locked.

Wednesday 15 March 2017 - Tuesday 31 December 2019
All Day

Located on the corner of the Market Place, this multi-use space has evolved over time and found its official title of No.42 in 2016.

Our ground floor shop and gallery supports local small creative businesses and artists, offering them a place to display and sell their work in order to grow – some of which has been created upstairs in Pod, the special incubator studio space created to help new businesses which includes 6 individual studios and a communal space.

No.42 is also home to the workshop area, hosting a wide range of Heritage Craft skill sessions and other creative events. This is a place where the whole community can try their hand at something new and develop skills and interests. You can get hands on with history creating handcrafted slippers, scarves, jewellery and much more.

Our Collections Display can also be found on the ground floor, presenting both Future Plans and archived items, it is a gateway to both the past and future.  It offers a chance to look forward to the exciting changes ahead for Bishop Auckland and take a sneak peek into our archives.

Opening Times
Wednesday to Saturday: 10am-5pm

To enquire about retail space, delivering a workshop or exhibiting in the gallery contact

42 Market Place, Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL14 7PB 01388 660 270

Friday 13 October 2017 - Wednesday 1 January 2020
12:00 am

With three permanent galleries and one temporary exhibition space on the ground floor, the gallery explores working life in the coalmines through original artefacts and artwork from prominent mining artists such as Tom McGuinness and Norman Cornish.

Using powerful imagery, the downstairs galleries will help visitors to understand what it felt like to work in the claustrophobic coalmines and shed light on why some miners felt it necessary to paint this dark and clamorous world. The upstairs galleries celebrate the diversity and strength of mining communities, through the stark contrast of riotous colour at Gala Day and the rich lives led by miners in their time above ground.

The Mining Art Gallery shares the experience of life underground and life in the community through eyes of the people who lived it. The Gemini Collection, now in its permanent home, is an artistic record of an industry and a memorial to a former way of life. The work displayed showcases the skill and creativity of these labourers and celebrates the achievements of the mining artists as a vital aspect of coalfield heritage.

Visitor information

Mining Art Gallery, Market Place, Bishop Auckland, DL14 7NP

Getting here
With many transport routes coming through Bishop Auckland, there are methods of visiting us. See here

Opening times

Open daily from 10am to 4pm
Last entry at 3.30pm

Ticket prices

Adult: £5
Concessions: £4 (over 60s, full-time students, unwaged)
Under 16s: £1
Groups: Pre-booked groups of more than 10 receive a discount of 15%

*Essential carers included within ticket price

More information on booking tickets for concessions, carers, groups and schools is available on our ticket pricing page. Proof of concessions will be required when purchasing your ticket. See here

How to book

Pre-booking is only required for group bookings, otherwise there is no need to pre-book your ticket, you can buy one when you arrive.


We welcome disabled visitors and make sure that reasonable adjustments are made where possible. Please visit our accessibility page for more information or you can contact us on 01388 743 750.

Contact us

During office hours 9 -5 Monday to Friday, please contact us on 01388 743 750.


Please note that photography is not permitted inside the gallery. If you would like to request images for media use, please contact

Other Mining Art Attractions

If you’re interested in viewing more Mining Art in the local area, the Bob Abley Art Gallery at Spennymoor Town Hall, hosts a large, permanent collection of Norman Cornish art.

Thursday 1 March 2018 - Tuesday 31 December 2019
11:30 am - 2:00 pm

Mining Art Gallery

Working the Seam 
Daily at 11.30am and 2.30pm

Join our Mining Art team as they dig deep into the Gemini Collection and other loans, to reveal more about the artworks on show. These ten-minute talks will look at a specific painting, theme, technique or story based on our collection.


Included in entry to Mining Art Gallery/ drop-in

Sunday 21 October 2018 - Friday 27 October 2023
12:00 am

Your visit to The Auckland Project will begin at Auckland Tower where you can find all the information you need to explore all our venues and the local area. Auckland Tower will be the place to purchase your entry tickets, get directions, and view our exhibition on the first floor, which is about our previous archaeological excavations and the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Your first point of contact will be our friendly Visitor Experience Team who will be waiting for your arrival. They’ll be on hand to answer your questions or help you decide which of our venues you want to see.

Auckland Tower also boasts its very own 29-metre high tower, with a viewing platform 15-metres up offering unsurpassed views across the Deer Park, the Market Place, and the rural landscape beyond.

Visitor information
Auckland Tower, Market Place, Bishop Auckland, DL14 7NP

Getting here
You can get to Bishop Auckland by car, bus or train and there is plenty of car parking nearby. Find out more







Opening times
Open daily from 10am to 4pm.

Ticket prices
Adults: £3
Children: £1

Admission to Auckland Tower is included in the ticket price to the Mining Art Gallery.

More information on booking tickets for concessions, carers, groups and schools is available on our ticket pricing page.

We welcome disabled visitors and make sure that reasonable adjustments are made where possible. Please visit our accessibility page for more information or you can contact us on 01388 743 750.

Contact us:
During office hours 9-5 Monday to Friday, please contact us on 01388 743 750.

The development of Auckland Tower would not have been possible without the support of North East Local Enterprise Partnership and The Headley Trust.

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