Work is starting to transform one of County Durham’s oldest buildings into a new, learning space.
The West Mural Tower, in the grounds of Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, dates back to at least the 15th century and was built as a defensive gatehouse guarding the original, main entrance to the Castle when it was home to the Prince Bishops of Durham.
Now, the Grade I listed building is being rescued from decades of deterioration and decay as part of The Auckland Project visitor destination, with support from Historic England’s local Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) scheme.
David Ronn, Project Manager at The Auckland Project, said: “The West Mural Tower has been through many incarnations in its 500 year history, including as a gatehouse for access to Auckland Castle and a cottage for those taking care of the Deer Park.
“It has fallen into disrepair over the last century but we’ve been working hard with Historic England and Durham County Council in the past year to make the building safe. We are now looking forward to giving it a totally new lease of life and making it functional for people to use and enjoy.”
The transformation of West Mural Tower is being funded primarily by The Auckland Project, with a £50,000 grant from Historic England as part of the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone scheme and £5,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund.
Bishop Auckland is one of 18 locations across the UK to have been granted Heritage Action Zone status and will benefit from a five-year programme designed to reinvigorate its historic Market Place, high streets and other parts of the conservation area. It is being delivered by Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone in partnership with Durham County Council and the Brighter Bishop Auckland Regeneration Partnership.
Work to bring the West Mural Tower back into use will include stabilising the existing building, removing and then rebuilding some of the walls using original stone, and reinstating the medieval roof using green oak and other traditional materials. The original first floor will also be recreated, with the installation of windows and basic services such as heating and electricity to make it fit for the present day.
The Auckland Project has appointed experienced, family-run, Tyne Valley company, Heritage Consolidation Ltd, to carry out the work, with designs by Hexham-based Doonan Architects, which specialises in working with historic buildings and conservation projects.
It is expected to take around six months to complete, with the room in use from spring/summer 2019.
Three volunteers have also been recruited to follow the progress of West Mural Tower and get hands on with the work wherever possible, assisting with activities such as pointing and galleting – using smaller pieces of stone or slate to help block up large gaps between building masonry.
The new space will be used by The Auckland Project’s Engagement Team to provide a variety of learning opportunities for small groups and families.
For more information about The Auckland Project, visit www.aucklandproject.org or search for Auckland Project on Facebook and Twitter.