HISTORICALLY, Bishop Auckland was never particularly a mining town, although surrounding villages such as Witton Park and West Auckland were, moreover the wealth of South West Durham was principally extracted from the sweat of the backs of coal miners.

Therefore, a statue in honour of coal miners is appropriate.

However, I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone would want to create a statue in honour of the Prince Bishops of Durham.

For almost 800 years the Prince Bishops of Durham ruled what was known as the Palatine of Durham, which not only gave the bishop power over the Church, but also the exceptional dictatorial powers of a medieval baron, including the ability to raise an army, inflict violence against the local population and crucially the ability to raise their own taxes.

Sometimes, taxes raised were put to good use such as the building of the exceptional Gothic Cathedral of Durham, but for most of the time these compulsory taxes were used to line the pockets of the aristocratic bishop and his many hangers on.

Until the reforms of Sir Robert Peel in the 1830s the Church of England was utterly corrupt and according to the historian Trevor May, Durham was “considered to be the most scandalous of all cathedrals”.

It was led from 1826 to 1836 by Bishop van Mildert, the last of the Prince Bishops.

At the time the average wage of a coal miner was below £50 per year, but van Mildert paid his 12 canons (administrators) £3,000 per year each, one of whom, Francis Egerton, had been living in Paris for the previous 49 years.

Absentee priests who were paid large sums of money for doing literally nothing wasn’t the only corrupt practice in the Palatine of Durham, as holding several offices in the church (pluralism) and the sale of church positions (simony) were also common practice.

My own view is that the Prince Bishops were robber barons and no honour should be bestowed upon them.

I appreciate that they were part of the heritage of County Durham, yet so were the bubonic plague and smallpox.

John Gilmore, Bishop Auckland.