FITTINGLY, 150 years after it was first hailed as “a masterpiece of street architecture”, a Victorian bank has this week found a new life as home to Spanish masterpieces.

A former Backhouses’ bank, designed by south Durham’s greatest architectural artist, has been converted into an art gallery in which there are works by internationally renowned artists such as El Greco, Murillo, Velázquez and Zurbaran.

The Northern Echo: The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland, which is in the Bishop Barrington School on the left and Hoskins' exuberant bank on the right Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Spanish Gallery is the latest venture of the Auckland Project and it is housed in two formerly rundown buildings in Bishop Auckland Market Place.

The Northern Echo: Barrington School in the Bishop Auckland Market Place in 1968

Barrington School in the Bishop Auckland Market Place in 1968

The Northern Echo: PLANS IN THE BANK: Auckland Castle unveil a plan to have a Spanish art gallery in the former Barclays Bank buidling in the market square of Bishop Auckland.  Picture: CHRIS BOOTH.

The scholl and the bank

On the left is a buff-coloured school, which Bishop Shute Barrington opened on May 26, 1810, and on the right is the two tone bank, opened by GG Hoskins on March 18, 1871, when a formal banquet was held in the Town Hall. About 135 guests were "most handsomely and liberally entertained", said The Northern Echo, to a dinner "of the most recherche description, no expense being spared".

The Northern Echo: From The Northern Echo of March 20, 1871

Hoskins was greeted with “immense cheering and musical honours”, as he had just pulled off his first major commercial project.

He came from a wealthy family in Derbyshire, was educated in London and Paris, and arrived in south Durham aged 26 in 1863 as a trainee architect to act as clerk of works on two projects for the Backhouse family: a mansion in Hurworth and a bank on Darlington’s High Row. The mansion is now Rockliffe Hall, the five star hotel next to Middlesbrough FC’s training ground, and the bank is now occupied by Barclays.

Hoskins’ first solo designs were for the Temperance Hall at the east end of Hurworth in 1864 and then the following year Elm Ridge, a mansion for the Pease family which is now a church. The bank in Bishop Auckland was his next commission.

Among the addresses when it was opened 150 years ago was one by Mr W Edgar which must have been tedious, as The Northern Echo said of it: “In a somewhat lengthy speech, he proceeded to sketch the rise and progress of the town from its being, as he designated it, a miserable row of houses, to the present time when it has become a very considerable town."

But it was Mr Edgar who hailed the bank as "a masterpiece of street architecture", and it is classic Hoskins with its polychromatic brickwork, fancy arches and Gothic finishing touches.

The Northern Echo: The former Barclay's bank building in Bishop Auckland Market Place.

The bank is dated 1870 in classic Hoskins style and, below, an architectural detailThe Northern Echo: The former Barclay's bank building in Bishop Auckland Market Place.


After Bishop Auckland, he built Backhouse banks at Middlesbrough and Barnard Castle, and he covered Darlington with his distinctive works: the Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, the Technical College, the library, the School Furnishing Company building on the corner of Skinnergate and Blackwellgate that the Indian restaurant Babul’s is about to take on, plus, of course, the King’s Head.

For himself, in 1883, he built a villa called Thornbeck Hill, which is now divided into three in the heart of the West End.

Further afield, in 1870 he built the Victoria Hall theatre in Sunderland which, in 1883, was the scene of a terrible tragedy when 183 children were crushed to death - not because of Mr Hoskins' designs.

The Northern Echo:

He spent much of the 1880s building the Gothic masterpiece that is Middlesbrough Town Hall (above), all crypts and belfries, and towards the end of his career, he designed the remarkable Fleece Inn (below) in Richmond in a Scottish baronial style.

The Northern Echo: The Fleece, Friars Wynd, Richmond, designed by George Gordon Hoskins.

When the Bishop bank shut in 1999, it became a pub and then fell derelict for a decade, so whatever you think of 18th Century Spanish religious art, it is great to have this work by a Durham old master back in use.

The Northern Echo: George Gordon Hoskins with his horse and carriage at his home in the West End in Darlington

GG Hoskins with his horse and carriage at his home in Darlington's West End

GG Hoskins (1837-1911)

1863: Clerk of works at Pilmore Hall, Hurworth, now Rockliffe Park, Middlesbrough Football Club's training ground.

1864: Clerk of works at Backhouse's Bank, High Row, Darlington, now Barclay's. First contract: Hurworth Temperance Hall - now the village hall. Also Nos 15 and 16 Westbrook Villas

1865: Elm Ridge, Darlington, Pease family home, now a church

1867: Stables behind Backhouse's Bank, High Row, Darlington

1870: Backhouse's Bank, Market Place, Bishop Auckland, now a pub

1870: The Victoria Hall, Sunderland

1872: Backhouse's Bank, Albert Road, Middlesbrough, now a pub, pictured

1874: North Cemetery, Darlington: chapels, lodges and monument

1875: Houses in Elton Parade, Darlington. Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, Darlington

1878: Backhouse's Bank, Newgate, Barnard Castle, now Barclay's

1879: Crown Street Chambers, Darlington, now an amusement arcade

1882: Middlesbrough Town Hall. North Star newspaper offices, Crown Street, Darlington, now a fruit and veg shop

1883: Thornbeck Hill, Darlington - his home, now divided into three substantial residences. Also the North Star offices in Crown Street, Darlington

1884: Edward Pease Free Library, Crown Street, Darlington

1890: King's Head Hotel, Darlington

1894: Technical College, Northgate, Darlington

1895: North of England School Furnishing Company, Coniscliffe Road, Darlington, now Lloyd's bank

1897: The Fleece Hotel, Richmond

1900: Rise Carr schools, Darlington, now a £2.4m pupil referral unit, the Phoenix Centre

1903: Red Lion Hotel, Priestgate, Darlington

1904: First designs for the New Hippodrome, Darlington, now the Civic Theatre