At least some of our members were expecting a talk about New Zealand at our Probus talk this week. The title was ‘The Auckland Project’, and only the better informed among us realised that we were going to hear about Bishop Auckland in County Durham.
I must confess to knowing little about this town of 25 thousand people, between Darlington and Durham, apart from seeing its name on road signs. Lee and Chris soon put us all in the picture with their fascinating story of the rich past of the town.
Auckland castle dates back some 2000 years, and significant years were 1031, when King Canute gave the land to the Bishop of Lindisfarne, and 1072 when King William I put down a local uprising and installed a Norman Bishop of Durham, made the Earl of Northumberland.
These ‘Prince Bishops’ became the most powerful and wealthy land-owners in the country, until their powers were removed in 1832. In 2011 the last Bishop of Durham (fascinatingly the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby!) moved out of the Castle, making it available for sale.
The local Civic Society with massive financial support from a local-born benefactor Jonathan Ruffer purchased both castle and contents, formed charitable organisations and started a massive project aiming to regenerate Bishop Auckland by creating a world-class visitor destination centred on Kynren (a Norse-ish word meaning generation or family).
This is an open air show run by 1000 local volunteers, which tells an epic tale of the history of England, complete with a fireworks extravaganza! The town has just held its 3rd Kynren, and hopes to attract 400,000 visitors to the town, castle and show next season!
There’s much more to the story than I have summarised here. Local businesses and employment are growing, with encouragement from a lot of sources – so expect to see Art galleries, gardens, restaurants, hotels and museums and a beautiful town centre, as well as Auckland Castle and Kynren.
I have a feeling that, if members are sufficiently interested, Probus might put on a trip to Bishop Auckland next year, so we can see for ourselves what’s going on in a town a third of the size of Harrogate but with major ambitions for itself.
Seems like there may be some competition for Harrogate for tourist footfall. Maybe there’s a link between Kynren and the UCI Road World Championships 2019 taking place around Harrogate next September – with tourists from around the globe turning up to ‘do’ the North of England!
Amazing what can be done with a bit of energy and shared purpose (and a lot of money)!