Shock as Auckland Castle bell ‘600 years older than tower’


THE restoration of a Grade I listed arch in Bishop Auckland by a local firm has revealed a remarkable secret that had been guarded for nearly 1,000 years.

Vest Construction, based in Bishop Auckland, recently completed the restoration of the historic Robinson’s Arch in Market Place, which is the official entrance to Auckland Castle.

Robinson Arch is a Grade I listed building overlooking Market Place, but more importantly the entrance to the 800 year old estate and palace, created and used by the Prince Bishops of Durham. Commissioned by Bishop Trevor in 1760 and designed by Sir Thomas Rokerby.

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The £500,000 project, which was completed earlier this year, included intricate work on Bishop Auckland’s clock tower, which dates back to the mid-18th century.

But during renovations, it was discovered that the 450kg bronze bell was founded around 1175, 600 years before the tower was built. Historians have found an inscription on the bell which translates to “Stephanus made me” which had been incised into the mold during the making of the bell.

Because of this discovery, the renovation of the bell was commissioned. The bell is believed to be unique for an English bell of this period, being considerably larger than other examples and is considered to be more similar to German-style bells of this period.

The full scope of the project included an initial phase to make changes to the properties around the arch to create new walls around the development. The second phase of work included intricate masonry repairs, gouging and stone replacements, and the removal of iron studs while rebuilding every corner of the tower.

The Auckland Bell

In addition, the wooden structural elements of the roof were replaced or repaired as well as the lead elements of the original roof. The clock faces and associated mechanisms have undergone a comprehensive specialist refurbishment and electrical upgrades have been provided including new facade lighting. Finally, the historic bell was removed for major work and reassembled in new timber and steel frames to complete the project. as well as large-scale replacement of the original oak frame, refurbishment of the original copper clock faces and weather vane.

The project was awarded to Vest as part of an ongoing relationship with the Auckland project which was shortlisted for the recent Constructing Excellence Conversion & Regeneration award in October 2021.

The Echo of the North: The bell towerThe bell tower

Speaking about the project, Gavin Vest, Managing Director of Vest Construction, said: “It was a really fantastic project for which he was appointed. The historic arch was a real challenge due to the craftsmanship and intricacies involved, but the end result is simply stunning and will certainly stand the test of time for future generations.

“It’s great to be part of something so historic, we feel very privileged to have been included in the project team and it is certainly a source of pride for the company.”

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David Ronn, project sponsor of Project Auckland, said of the completion: “It was great to work with such an experienced team on this project. We have a really good relationship with Vest so they were natural partners. for a project of this size and importance. We are thrilled with the end result and hope the Robinson’s Arch will be enjoyed by generations to come. It’s a real whim.”

The project team included Space Architects, Todd Milburn Partnership, TGA Consulting Engineers, Blackett Ord and Turner & Townsend and is part of a series of projects carried out by Vest which includes the Auckland Tower, the entrance halls of the Durham Cathedral, Bishop Cosin’s Library and the Exchequer Building on Palace Green, Durham.

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