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Prince Bishops’ Garden

The Prince Bishops Garden was originally commissioned by Durham County Council and designed by Sunderland artist Colin Wilbourn for the Garden Festival at Gateshead in 1990, where it won three awards. Sir Peter Ustinov, then Chancellor of the University, opened its new home in the Botanic Garden in May 1992. It consists of three fountains and a cascade, fed from the mouth of a gargoyle. The gargoyle is a copy of the Sanctuary Knocker, from the North Door of Durham Cathedral. The three fountains represent the three main rivers of County Durham, the Tyne, the Tees and the Wear. 

A large sculpture used to exist in the centre of the garden, called "In the Shadows of the Past". Unfortunately, this sculpture had to be removed, as the wooden figures forming it were rotten. The space in front of the fountain that they formerly occupied is now a popular terrace.  

The figures were all carved from Elm trees which were felled because they had Dutch Elm disease. Each figure took approximately twenty to thirty days to carve (this does not include planning and thinking time), using a chain saw to 'rough out' and then chisels and mallet. The sculptures are meant to represent the historical background of County Durham. Each of these figures had a steel 'shadow', with a pattern of fretwork cut into it. This pattern, at a first look, allowed instead a particular piece of landscape to appear if viewed from the right place. The view related directly to the figure to which it was attached. In this way each carved figure had on his back the mark he had left behind, which is still apparent in the environment, like a shadow of the past. 

The six figures and their shadows represented the following historical figures:  

  • William of St. Calais (Bishop of Durham from 1081 to 1096, his shadow shows the Cathedral today) 
  • Ralph Lord Neville of Raby (representing one of the main families of the County’s nobility, his shadow shows Raby Castle where his family lives) 
  • John Cosin (Bishop of Durham from 1660 to 1672 who built the library at Palace Green, his shadow shows the Chapel which he also built at Auckland Castle)
  • George Stephenson (pioneer of the railways, his shadow shows the railway viaduct at Chester-le-Street) 
  • A member of the Shafto Family (important colliery owners in the County, his shadow shows the pit head and winding gear at Seaham) 
  • Sir James Laing (representing ship building on the Wear, he is shadowed by an image of Sunderland shipyards). 
Prince Bishops' Garden

Prince Bishops Garden

In the Shadows of the Past statues, before they were removed

In the Shadows of the Past statues, before they were removed