Bishop Auckland Area

THE BISHOP'S PALACE

The town of Bishop Auckland is situated at the confluence of the River Wear and the River Gaunless and has been the site of an important market since medieval times.`Bishop', as it is sometimes known to the locals, grew most rapidly in the nineteenth century, as a colliery town, but was important in much earlier times.

Its earlier history is centred around the park and Castle of Auckland, which has been the principal residence of the Bishops of Durham since the twelfth century. Auckland Castle, also known as Auckland Palace, began as a manor house, built about 1183, by Bishop Pudsey, but was later converted into a castle by Bishop Anthony Bek in the fourteenth century. It is the last of fourteen country seats belonging to the Bishops of Durham.

Auckland Castle

Auckland Castle : David Simpson

ANTHONY BEK- A HUNTING AND FIGHTING BISHOP

Anthony Bek (1284 - 1311), was the great hunting and fighting Bishop of Durham, who favoured Auckland palace, rather than Durham Castle as his main residence because of its proximity to the hunting grounds of Weardale. The Bishop took a keen interest in military affairs, as well as hunting and was always ready and willing to lead his army into battle against the Scots, as at the Battle of Falkirk in 1300.

Like Hugh Pudsey, an earlier Bishop of Durham, Bek was not shy of controversy and on one occasion he even became involved in a dispute with the Archbishop of York, after refusing orders to excommunicate some Durham monks.The Archbishop of York was so infuriated that he decided to excommunicate, not the monks, but Bishop Bek himself. Bek was not to be defeated so easily and persuaded the king to reinstate him on the grounds that an Archbishop had no right to excommunicate a `Prince Bishop' without the permission of the king.

Bishop Auckland Old Postcard

Old postcard showing gateway to Auckland Castle

LEGEND OF THE POLLARD BRAWN

Legend has it that at some time in the middle ages the Bishop Auckland area was the haunt of a huge, ferocious brawn (or boar), which terrorised this part of the Wear valley in much the same way as the Lambton worm at Chester-le-Street. Many attempts had been made to kill this dangerous beast, but all had failed, so the Bishop of Durham offered an unspecified reward for anyone who could rid the local countryside of the terrible creature.

Richard Pollard, a skilled but poor young knight rose to the challenge and began to study the behaviour of the brawn, which is supposed to have been as large as a cow. Finally, arming himself with several spears, Pollard was able to pursue the beast south of Auckland towards Raby Castle and Staindrop in Teesdale, where after a long and bloody struggle, he was able to kill the beast.

Upon completing the task Pollard proudly cut off the brawn's tongue and placed it in his pocket as a souvenir. Unfortunately Pollard was exhausted from his pursuit and fell asleep as the dead creature lay by his side. A little later, a man was passing by and noticed the sleeping knight and his quarry. Remembering the bishop's promise of a prize, he could not resist the opportunity of reward and quickly made off with the carcass, without awaking Pollard. When Pollard awoke, he was horrified to see the brawn had been taken, but guessed what had happened and quickly made his way to Auckland Palace, to see the Bishop of Durham.

Arriving at the palace, Pollard found he was too late, learning that someone had already presented the bishop with the brawn and received an ample sum of money in reward. Pollard nevertheless gained entry to the palace, when he claimed that he was the one who had slain the brawn.When Pollard showed the bishop the brawn's tongue, the carcass was examined and the young knight's claims were proved to be true. After considering, the bishop told Pollard that as a reward he could have all the lands he could ride around, in the time it took him to finish his meal.

Wasting no time Pollard set off, accompanied by one of the bishop's servants, but astonishingly returned to the palace only a few minutes later. The bishop was surprised that Pollard had taken so little time, but learned that the reason was simple, Pollard had ridden around Auckland palace itself !.Of course the bishop could not possibly give Pollard his palace and its grounds, but was impressed with the young knight's clever thinking, so instead presented him with some of the most fertile lands in the Auckland area. These lands became known as Pollard's lands.

WITTON LE WEAR AND HAMSTERLEY FOREST

Witton Castle at Witton le Wear, to the west of Bishop Auckland stands at the entrance to Weardale. It was once the seat of the Eure family but, later passed into the hands of the Lambtons. For many years the castle was the home of the famous Red Boy portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, a painting of the only son of John George Lambton, first Earl of Durham.

Today the painting is part of that family's London collection.Over the river to the west of Witton le Wear, we find the village of Hamsterley, which is not to be confused with the village of the same name on the River Derwent in North West Durham. Nearby on the valley sides of the river-like stream called the Bed-Burn Beck is Hamsterley Forest, the largest in County Durham. It is situated on the hillsides between the valleys of Weardale and Teesdale. Not far from Hamsterley forest we may find the remains of an overgrown ancient fort called the `the Castles'. It may be Iron Age or Romano-British in origin.

WEST AUCKLAND AND THE WORLD CUP

West Auckland, a former mining village to the south west of Bishop Auckland has a fascinating story to tell.In 1910 the village made history, when its miner's football team travelled to Italy to represent England in the first ever soccer `world cup'. Competing against the top teams from Switzerland, Germany and Italy, the amateur County Durham side, amazingly reached the final and defeated the mighty Italian giants Juventus, by two goals to nil.

West Auckland went on to successfully defend their title the following year and therefore retained the trophy for all time. When the team returned home however, they found themselves badly in debt and had to resort to selling their world cup to the local landlady for cash. Fortunately the cup can still be seen today, displayed in the West Auckland workingmen's club.`H'way the Lads'

BINCHESTER FORT AND ENGLAND'S OLDEST CHURCH

The main street in Bishop Auckland is called Watling Road and follows the course of the Roman Dere street. This led to the Roman fort of Binchester, the site of which lies near Auckland park, just to the north of the town. In Roman times, Binchester was called VINOVIA which meant `a pleasant spot'. The remains of the fort, which cover an area of 10 acres have been excavated and there is a small museum displaying one of the best examples of a Roman hypocaust (a central heating system), to be found in Britain.

Many of the stones from the Roman fort at Binchester were used in the construction of what may be Britain's oldest church at Escomb a mile to the west of Bishop Auckland. A pretty, but somewhat humble looking building of Anglo-Saxon origin it has been described by the great architectural authority, Sir Nicholas Pevsner as `one of the most important and moving survivals of the architecture of the time of Bede'. The early history of Escomb and why it should have survived is a mystery.

 

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