A £17m project incorporating a new museum extension will see Auckland Castle undergo its most pivotal transformation in nearly 300 years.
The two-storey annexe at the medieval stronghold at Bishop Auckland, County Durham, will house a unique museum charting the history of the British Isles through objects of faith and religion.
Building work will begin at the end of 2015 and be completed in time for a spring 2018 opening, helping to draw upwards of 130,000 visitors a year to the castle.
The development is part of £50m plans by the charitable Auckland Castle Trust to turn the former home of the Bishops of Durham into a major heritage and visitor attraction that could ultimately create 130 full-time or equivalent jobs.
David Ronn, Auckland Castle’s chief executive, has described the proposal as “ambitious and innovative,” and the “most significant alteration to the castle for nearly three centuries,” that will importantly create “multiple opportunities” for the area.
He said: “This is an ancient site and a building dating back 1,000 years. To incorporate any addition into such a setting is both architecturally and historically challenging, but we are creating something extremely special here at Auckland Castle.
“I am hugely excited by what we are doing here and by what the future holds. We have the chance to do something exceptional for the castle and for the town of Bishop Auckland, to create an extraordinarily beautiful building that blends the past with the future and which will house a world class exhibition of 5,000 Years of Faith, charting how our spiritual beliefs have shaped Britain’s history and who we are today.”
The new museum will be built on to the castle’s existing 16th century Scotland Wing – so-called because that is where Scottish prisoners of war were once housed – and will offer around 450sqm of permanent exhibition space. The Scotland Wing will also be renovated along with the remainder of the castle and its state rooms.
The Auckland Castle Trust is putting £7m into the project and is working towards a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the remaining £10m.
The HLF has already awarded the project their initial support, including a development grant of £1m. David Ronn described that support as a “massive statement of its commitment to the scheme.”