“WE are not idle,” says the chief executive of Auckland Castle Trust, David Maddan, “although to the casual observer, it may not look like that. After five years of planning, we are now entering the hard hat phase, where there’s lots going on but it’s out of sight.”

The work in Bishop Auckland is hidden away behind hoardings and building regulations as the men in hard hats and hi-viz jackets begin a year-long process of transforming the centre of the town into a world class tourist attraction capable of drawing 450,000 visitors a year.

So the castle is shut and the walled garden is a mess. Both are due to re-open in 2018, with the castle re-engineered to tell the story of the Prince Bishops and a stunning glass restaurant somehow suspended inside the walled garden.

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But what about the Market Place? Let’s leave the castle behind and take a tour, looking at the past, present and future of the buildings that the hard hat brigade are currently working on:

1. Roper House

The Northern Echo: No 1 TODAY: Roper House before its redevelopment. Picture by Andrew Clarey

Roper House before its redevelopment. Picture by Andrew Clarey

IMMEDIATELY in front of us, on the south-east corner of the Market Place, is an 18th Century Grade II listed house which has spent most of its life as home to firms of solicitors. For instance, Jennings and Son occupied it for 50 years from the 1890s and the 1911 census shows Mr Jennings – George to his friends – living above his office with his wife, son and daughter and three servants.

When the new Durham Road was driven into the Market Place in 1929 (see Memories 313), the house next to Roper House in Castle Chare was demolished and it became an end property.

One of its last occupants was DV Roper Ltd, an estate agent, and Mr Roper – Viv to his friends – was also a builder.

It has been empty since the 1980s, but it will be reborn as the Zurbaran Centre for Spanish and Latin American Art and Culture, a partnership with Durham University. Local builders, T Manners & Sons, are already on site.

2. Barrington School

The Northern Echo: No 2: The Barrington School, dating from 1810, is to be transformed into a Spanish Art Gallery

IN 1808, Bishop Shute Barrington – we met him last week fighting the Battle of Stanhope against the Weardale leadminers who were poaching his bonny moor hens – had a huge £70,000 windfall following a legal dispute over his leadmines and so bought Pollard’s Hall in the Market Place for £250. This had once been the home of Richard Pollard, who had slain a particularly unpleasant Medieval beast – probably a wild boar, possible a dragon – which had terrorised virgins in the district.

The bishop demolished the hall and built a “large and commodious” school which opened on his 76th birthday – May 26, 1810 – and soon became the town’s biggest.

As a plaque facing the Market Place notes, in 1929, the school received a donation from its most famous old boy: Sir John Priestman. He was born in Bishop in 1855, the son of a baker. He’d taken a train to the beach at Sunderland, fallen in love with the sea and so, aged 14, became an apprentice ship-builder. By the 1880s he had his own yard; by the 1920s, after a successful investment in South African goldmines, he became a multi-millionaire. Schools, churches, libraries and the university all benefited from his generosity. He is regarded as Sunderland’s greatest benefactor, and even today his trust gives away £350,000-a-year.

In 1974, the school moved to Woodhouse Lane, and its sandy-coloured Market Place building became a pizzeria. Extraordinarily, by 2019, in conjunction with the Museo del Prado in Madrid, it will be transformed into a Spanish Art Gallery, along with its neighbour…

3. Backhouses Bank

The Northern Echo: No 3: Backhouses Bank has been described as a "masterpiece of street architecture"

AT a lavish banquet thrown to celebrate the opening of the new bank on March 18, 1871, the building was described as “a masterpiece of street architecture”.

It was designed by Memories’ favourite architect, GG Hoskins, who created many of Darlington’s finest buildings, as well as at least four other Backhouses’ branches in the area. When Mr Hoskins was presented to the diners at the opening banquet in the Town Hall, he was greeted with “immense cheering and musical honours”.

Backhouses Bank, founded in Darlington in 1774, was regarded as the most dependable financial institution in the North-East in the 19th Century. It merged with other Quaker banks in 1896 to form Barclays, which shut the Market Place branch on November 19, 1999. Hoskins’ masterpiece was then used as a pub, but it has been forlorn and derelict for best part of a decade.

Its transformation into a £4m Spanish Art Gallery is due to be complete in 2019.

4. No 42, Market Place

The Northern Echo: No 4: Duff & Armstrong's stunning shop was at the junction of Newgate Street and the Market Place. Picture courtesy of Tom Hutchinson. Today's front cover shows the Market Place through the castle gates when D&R was still standing: we reckon the p

THIS unattractive late 1960s supermarket was built for Hintons on the footprint of Duff & Rowntree’s remarkable draper’s shop, which dated from the 1870s.

The building faced two ways: its widest side was on the Market Place and boasted that it was the home of “costumiers, milliners, linen drapers, silkmen, hosiers, glovers, furnishers”, but a narrow elevation looked down Newgate Street, the main street, and from its rooftop it screeched the names of D&R.

The Northern Echo: No 4 IN THE 1960s: This picture of the junction was taken on February 25, 1964, when the shop was occupied by Gills

Number 42, Market Place, pictured in 1964

Master draper Theophilus Duff seems to have been the mainstay of this business, employing more than 50 staff in the corner shop in 1881. He was in partnership with William Rowntree.

D&R closed in 1936, and WE Gill and Sons, furnishers, took over. Again, the name of the shop – GILL – shouted from the rooftop down Newgate Street.

Today, the former supermarket acts as Auckland Castle’s workshop and gallery space while upstairs are incubator pods helping creative businesses to find their feet.

5. Castle Hotel Bar

The Northern Echo: SOLD: Castle Hotel and Bar in Bishop Auckland has been bought by Auckland Castle Trust

THE newest addition to Auckland Castle’s property portfolio, this 19th Century inn was known in 1855 as the Railway Hotel, with horsedrawn coaches running thrice daily to Durham and once daily to Barnard Castle and West Auckland. In the 1870s, it became the Commercial Hotel, a name which stuck for 80 years. Since then it has had a variety of guises. Its future role is currently being considered.

6. The hotels

The Northern Echo: No 6: The hotels, Queen's Head and the King's Head, in the 1970s

A QUEEN’S HEAD has been on this site since the 16th Century, but the low, three-storey inn was rebuilt in the early 20th Century, with the triangular front elevations picking up on the original design. The King’s Arms next door – most recently the Postchaise Hotel – is a late 18th Century coaching inn. A single boutique hotel is to be created out of the two premises – but which name will it take?

7. The Old Bank Chambers

The Northern Echo: No 7: The Old Bank Chambers is to become a gallery of mining art

THIS curious, turreted building on the north side of the Market Place was built about 1860 as a bank. But which bank? One theory is that this was the initial home of Backhouses Bank before it moved over the road to Hoskins’ masterpiece; another theory is that it was a branch of the Newcastle, Shields and Sunderland Union Joint Stock Bank, which was founded in 1836 and is known to have had a branch in the town.

For much of the 20th Century, the chambers was the home of the town council before it passed into the possession of the county council. Later this year, it will reopen as The Mining Art Gallery, and it will showcase the wonderful works rooted in the County Durham coalfield in the collection of Bob McManners and Gillian Wales.

8. The Welcome Building

The Northern Echo: No 8: The 17th Century cottages were demolished in 1962 and the land has lain vacant ever since

OUR walk ends where it started – in Castle Square. A piece of land on the north corner has been empty since 1962 when dilapidated 17th Century cottages were pulled down – possibly by Roper’s.

The Northern Echo: No 8: The 17th Century cottages were demolished in 1962 and the land has lain vacant ever since

Here, next year, the Welcome Building is due to rise. It will be the visitor’s starting point for the Bishop Auckland experience, its height giving an overview of the project and its appearance harking back to the days when the Bishop of Durham had defensive towers in the walls around his castle.

So although the Market Place may resemble a builder’s yard at the moment, there is much to look forward to.

If you have any information or memories relating to any of the buildings, please let us know. Many thanks to Tom Hutchinson for his help with this article.