Auckland Castle, the palace of the Prince Bishops of Durham for nearly nine centuries, is to be transformed as part of a three year long regeneration initiative.
The scheme has been bolstered by the award of a £9m lottery grant which will help turn the historic castle in County Durham into a top class tourist destination with faith at its heart.
As part of the plans, the castle’s Scotland Wing will be overhauled and extended, allowing staff and experts to explore the structure’s past.
A spokeswoman for the Auckland Castle Trust said the wing remains “something of a mystery,” adding: “We are hoping to unravel its history as renovation work begins but, for the moment, a lot of this building’s past is rather murky.”
It remains unclear when the long, narrow three story building was constructed. Some early records suggest it was built in 1388 by Bishop Skirlaw while other records claim it dates back to the 16th century.
The trust says that the name may derive from “the building being used to house Scottish prisoners” and points to a poem by Lewis Carroll, ‘The Legend of Scotland’ which refers to the wing being used to house Scottish prisoners. Carroll wrote the poem as a present for the daughters of Bishop Longley who lived at Auckland Castle in the 1850s.
As part of the renovation work, the Scotland Wing will be extended for use as a gallery featuring a permanent exhibition explaining the castle’s history and it significance to religious life in Britain.
Up to 130 jobs will be created following the announcement of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which will also allow for the renovation the castle’s state rooms.
The trust spokeswoman explained: “The castle has undergone numerous changes over the centuries, but the museum extension - which will house a new and immersive museum experience over 11 galleries exploring the history of faith in the British Isles - and the state room renovations will be among the most visionary and far reaching undertaken.”
The trust’s chief executive, David Ronn, said the work would provide a welcome boost for the local economy.
He said: “The value of this grant to both Auckland Castle and the immediate area cannot be overstated.
“The work it will allow us to do at the castle, and all the activity that will flow from that - job, training and volunteering opportunities - will play a major part in helping to breathe new life into Bishop Auckland.
“Regeneration and growth, both of the castle and the town, has always been central to the trust’s long-term plans, and the development of a new museum wing and the renovation of the castle go to the heart of that.”
Designed by Niall McLaughlin in association with Purcell, the museum extension on the Scotland Wing will echo wooden Anglo-Saxon churches of the 6th and 7th centuries. The blueprints were granted planning permission last month.
The exhibition will include a permanent multi-media installation of both national and international significance presenting works of art and artefacts covering pre-history to the present.
Among the items that will be on display will be the Cottingham Tank, a Viking lead font that is a fusion of Pagan and Christian beliefs, rare stained-glass panels among the last to be made before the Reformation, and two Bronze Age swords that were deliberately deposited as votive offerings.