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Archaeologists working at Auckland Castle

Our archaeologists are part of a 100-strong team aiming to uncover the mysteries of a ‘lost’ house at Auckland Castle, County Durham, UK.

It will be the sixth summer of excavations on the Auckland Castle site and our archaeology researchers and students aim to learn more about a house built by infamous Parliamentarian and Puritan Sir Arthur Haselrig. 

Sir Arthur owned Auckland Castle during the middle of the 17th century and was a key ally of Oliver Cromwell. 

Demolishing and rebuilding 

Remains of a cathedral at Auckland CastleHe purchased Auckland Castle whilst the monarchy, Church of England and bishops had been outlawed.  

He quickly set about demolishing parts of the medieval bishop’s castle - even using gunpowder to blow up the chapel built by Bishop Bek around 1300 - and began building a contemporary house for himself.  

Unfortunately for Sir Arthur, when the monarchy was restored and bishops returned to power in 1660, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.  

The new Bishop of Durham, John Cosin, demolished Sir Arthur’s house and rebuilt Auckland Castle as a Bishop’s Palace. 

Digging for answers 

Informed by geophysics, our archaeologists will be working to discover if the house was ever finished and lived in.  

They’re hoping to find household objects and identify essential parts of the building including windows and floors. 

A viewing platform will allow visitors to observe the work in progress on weekdays from 3 June to 21 June, 2024. 

Visitors will be able to talk to our archaeology students and may have the opportunity to handle objects as they’re found.  

Grand designs 

Professor Chris Gerrard, the project’s academic lead, said: “Sir Arthur Haselrig ended his days in the Tower of London, his reputation in tatters.  

“Perhaps he thought about his grand design of a new house at Bishop Auckland and wondered what had become of it.  

“We should be able to find out this summer and get a much better idea of what he was planning.  

“With luck, we should also see the east end of the later medieval gatehouse we excavated in 2021 and that will help us to understand how the palace entrance looked before the present Wyatt arch was built at the end of the 18th century.” 

Auckland Castle’s excavations have previously featured on hit BBC TV show Digging for Britain and with nearly 900 years of history at the site it’s believed there is still more left to uncover. 

Find out more 

  • Our Department of Archaeology is a leading centre for the study of archaeology and is ranked joint 5th in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2024. Feeling inspired? Visit our Archaeology webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes.