The chance to have a go at ancient skills safeguarding our heritage coupled with an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse of restoration work at one of the region’s most important historic sites, is being offered this half-term.
Auckland Castle in County Durham is inviting visitors to experience first-hand the traditional building techniques being used to protect the fabric of the 17th century walled garden in preparation for work starting on a multi-million pound scheme to bring it back to life.
The closest the public can usually get is watching the team of expert craftspeople from a special viewing area situated on the main castle driveway overlooking the garden.
But on Wednesday, 28 October between 10am-4pm, the gate is being thrown open with young and old alike being offered the chance to get a taste for a range of age-old construction skills from lime slaking to pointing, leadwork and stone carving.
Hard hat tours in the company of one of the North East’s best known archaeologists, Harry Beamish, whose work on the two acre walled garden at Bishop Auckland has helped unearth its historical importance, will also be on the fun-packed programme of activities.
The free to attend Heritage Skills in the Walled Garden event is being run by Auckland Castle in conjunction with Team Force Restoration, which is carrying out the delicate repair work.
Andie Harris, a heritage skills, learning, education and engagement consultant, who has pulled the event together on behalf of Auckland Castle, said the day would offer a rare chance to see conservation work in action.
Usually when an historic building or site is being worked on, it is carried out behind closed doors and the public wouldn’t get access. This day will be a fantastic opportunity for people to sample for themselves a number of the heritage skills that have over many centuries helped shape the built landscape around us. I am likening it to the Antiques Roadshow, but instead of finding out about your family heirlooms, you can come along and chat to the skilled artisans helping conserve and adapt our ancient built environment, try your hand at some of the age-old crafts, learn more about why we still need them, and hopefully be inspired to find out more. It is vital that traditional building techniques are not allowed to die out and that pursuing a career or interest in the heritage construction sector is seen as enjoyable, worthwhile and fulfilling. It promises to be an entertainingly educational day of free half-term activities. If you’re looking for something to do that all the family can join in, then the Heritage Skills in the Walled Garden event is ideal.
Open to people of all ages, it will also be a chance to discover more about the next chapter in the 1,000 year story of Auckland Castle – the former home of England’s only Prince Bishops – and the multi-million pound plan to transform it into a world class heritage visitor attraction over the next two years.
This will include the building of a new museum wing, the restoration of the castle’s state rooms, the construction on a new welcome building, and the 21st century refashioning of the derelict walled garden, from what was the private domain of the Prince Bishops into a year round attraction with stunning new glasshouses, a restaurant, event spaces, and the rich replanting of fruit, flowers and vegetables.
Thanks to the archaeological work that has been carried out in the walled garden, it is now known how historically significant the plot is and the luxurious dining habits enjoyed by the Prince Bishops.
The remains of two centuries old glasshouses used for growing pineapples have been discovered. Dating back to 1757 they are among the oldest known hothouses of their kind in the North.
The find has been described by Harry Beamish as putting the walled garden “into the premier league of its time.”
Pineapples were once known as the ‘king of fruits’, and to have your own pinery was the equivalent status symbol now of owning a Bugatti Veyron or Lamborghini.
Harry will be on hand to explain more about the history of the walled garden and its princely owners’ lavish lifestyle, on 28 October.
Visitors are free to drop-in any time from 10am to try out the range of traditional skills and chat to the craftspeople, but must ensure they wear appropriate clothing and footwear, such as stout walking or steel toe cap boots.
No experience is necessary to try out the skills.
Wednesday 28th October 10am 4pm Auckland Castle