Bishop Auckland is an ancient town, standing on what was Dere Street – an old Roman road. Like many County Durham towns, it owed its later prosperity to coal mining. When the surrounding pits closed, the town went into decline, but it is now gradually rediscovering itself as new industries are established. As its name implies, this was part of the territory of the Prince Bishops of Durham, who controlled what was then a scattering of small villages. Rapid expansion occurred during the 19th century and Bishop Auckland became an important market town and administrative centre for the region.
Auckland Castle, at one time the principal country residence of the Prince Bishops, is now the official residence of the Bishop of Durham. The castle began as a small 12th century manor house and over the years successive bishops have added to it; looking at it today, it appears largely 17th or 18th century. But the fabric is still basically medieval, although parts of it were destroyed during the Civil War, when it was the headquarters of Sir Arthur Hazlerigg, Governor of the North. Bishop Cosin set about making it windproof and watertight after the Restoration, turning the Great Hall into a magnificent private chapel in 1665. Dedicated to St Peter, it is reputed to be the largest private chapel in Europe.
A market has been held in Bishop Auckland for centuries. Opposite the present market place is the imposing Franco-Flemish Bishop Auckland Town Hall, built in the early 1860s.
While the villages immediately surrounding Bishop Auckland are mainly industrial, there are still some attractions worth seeing. At South Church is the cathedralesque St Andrew’s Church, 157 feet long and said to be the largest parish church in the county. On display in a working men’s club at West Auckland can be seen the most unlikely of trophies – the World Cup, no less. In 1910 the village’s football team went to Italy to represent England in the first ever ‘World Cup’. The team beat Juventus 2-0 in the final. The team successfully defended the title the following year, earning the right to retain the trophy for all time. The trophy on show is actually a replica, the original having been stolen.