The Auckland Project

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, many projects can take a long time to come to fruition and for very many reasons. Nearly a year in and most of you know that the COVID-19 situation has certainly caused many more clients to slow or pause projects.

However, at Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, the pandemic has presented a key opportunity to undertake important conservation works.

SPACE Architects were first engaged in 2017, by the then Auckland Castle Trust, to undertake a condition survey of the Grade I listed Robinson Arch. SPACE Architects provided a very detailed survey and prioritised schedule of works, using point cloud technology and photogrammetric images

The Robinson Arch is a clocktower overlooking the town’s Market Place, but more importantly, it is the main entrance gate to the 800-year-old estate and Palace, created and used by the Prince Bishops of Durham. The Robinson Arch was commissioned by Bishop Trevor in 1760 and designed by Sir Thomas Rokerby. Its Gothic style is impressive and provides a key historic link with the town.

At the same time, SPACE were appointed to undertake the College Archway for the same client. This was an important project to reintroduce a medieval archway into the south range of the historic quadrangle of Grade II listed buildings adjacent to the Robinson Arch. These were formerly a medieval College occupied by a Dean and his Canons and are now residential properties.

Working with the same team engaged for the Robinson Arch (Todd Milburn - QS and Blackett-Ord Conservation – CARE registered Structural Engineers), SPACE produced the detailed design of the new ashlar stone archway, remodelled interiors, removal of C20th rear extensions and a series of conservation repairs.

Having achieved Listed Building Consent and planning approval in late 2018, The College Archway was completed by contractor Vest Construction in June 2020 and now provides an important role for day-to-day maintenance access as well as critical secondary emergency access to the estate and castle.

A few months later, with the pandemic 4 months old, The Auckland Project decided that the prolonged closure of the castle to visitors presented the opportunity to also undertake the necessary works to the Robinson Arch. In the space of 6 weeks, working closely with the client and Turner and Townsend project managers, SPACE’s design team undertook intrusive survey work and produced a full tender package based on the original condition report and schedule of works. Vest Construction were again successful and commenced work in September 2020.

By far the largest and most serious element of the works identified during the original survey was the need to rectify significant cracks to all four faces of the clocktower (and bell chamber). This required the sequential dismantling and reinstatement of each corner, as well as large scale replacement and repairs to the original oak roof structure. The works also include the refurbishment of the copper clock faces and original wind vane.

The project has recently been in the news for the discovery that its bell is three times older than the building. On close inspection, it transpired that the bell within the tower was founded circa 1175, 600 years before the tower was built! Consequentially, the refurbishment of this important 450kg bronze bell has been brought into the project. 

The full scheme is due for completion in May 2021.