Building Study: Auckland Tower, County Durham, by Niall McLaughlin

02_Auckland_NickKane

The architect has given Auckland Castle a timber tower resembling a siege engine – but while it’s a permanent fixture there’s nothing static about it

The quaint County Durham market town of Bishop Auckland probably has two principal claims to fame. The first is that legendary comic Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy went to grammar school there, enabling the town to become one of legions across northern England that somehow lay claim to the formative years of the British half of the iconic comedy duo.

And the second, and significantly more architecturally relevant, historic fact is that it is home to grade I-listed Auckland Castle. Auckland Castle rarely features on the roll call of famous English fortresses that typically includes more celebrated examples like Windsor and Warwick. But it was once one of the most important political and religious sites in the UK.

With origins dating back to the 12th century but heavily “gothicked” and romanticised by James “the Destroyer” Wyatt in the late 18th century, up until 2010 Auckland Castle was home to those bearing the illustrious title of prince-bishops of Durham. In days of yore the prince-bishops of Durham enjoyed fabulous wealth and power, second only to the monarch. They enjoyed these privileges because their northern position gave them a strategic role in protecting the Crown from marauding Scottish attacks and, in return, the prince-bishops were allowed to raise taxes, establish laws and essentially run north-eastern England like a semi-autonomous episcopal fiefdom. Consequently, Auckland Castle’s chapel is the largest private chapel in Europe.

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