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Digging for Britain digs into Auckland Castle’s medieval history Thursday, 2 February 2023
Prof Chris Gerrard
Viewers of the popular BBC2 series Digging For Britain will soon be treated to a trip to Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland to find out more about its medieval history.
Presenter Prof Alice Roberts and the production team spent time with archaeologists from The Auckland Project and Durham University last year to explore the results of a five-year excavation project.
Since the first dig in 2017, around 500 archaeologists and volunteers – led by John Castling, Archaeology Curator at The Auckland Project, and Prof Chris Gerrard, Professor of Archaeology at Durham University– have been involved in making a number of exciting finds, not least the amazing discovery of a long-lost medieval chapel.
The episode, which will be broadcast on BBC2 on February 12th at 8pm (but which is available now on BBC iPlayer) sees Prof Roberts hear more about Bek’s Chapel, a magnificent building constructed during the early 14th century during the rule of Prince Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek (1284-1310).
Although its existence had been documented, the chapel’s location had remained a mystery since its destruction in the 1650s by Sir Arthur Haselrig, following the English Civil War.
It was uncovered over a number of years beneath the Castle’s lawns before being revealed to the public in a special exhibition in early 2020.
As well as the story of Bek’s Chapel, the archaeologists also took the opportunity to share a number of objects with Prof Roberts, which have been discovered throughout the project.
Among them are a well-used medieval book clasp, an exquisite gold crucifix found between the cobbles; and a little bell, which Prof Gerrard playfully suggests could have belonged to the Bishop of Durham’s monkey.
John Castling, who is also a PhD researcher at Durham University, said: “It was great to meet up with Alice and the Digging for Britain team and take them through the work we’ve been doing at Auckland Castle and the discoveries we’ve made.
“What Digging for Britain does really well is that it captures the excitement of archaeology by showing you the discoveries, while also offering a realistic picture of what it’s like to dig a site, framing the real work archaeologists are doing in a really engaging way.
“Programmes like that are really important as they bring the subject and discoveries of archaeology to that interested public audience – and can capture and summarise an excavation, which may have taken five or six years, in 10 minutes.”
Since the filming took place, excavation work on Bek’s Chapel has concluded with the site being covered over for preservation. Once covered, the site will be transformed into a new Faith Garden, which visitors will be able to explore when the much-anticipated Faith Museum opens in autumn 2023.
This summer, the archaeology team will be turning their attentions to the parkland which surrounds Auckland Castle.
Mr Castling said: “We’re hoping that we will be able to locate the Roman road which goes through the park as well as exploring the lodges, fishponds and bridges, which date from between 1100 to 1500.
“There are also potentially some prehistoric monuments in the park – although they could also be medieval rabbit warrens. We’ll have to wait and see what we find, and of course visitors to the Auckland Castle and its Deer Park are welcome to come to and find us while we’re digging in June and ask what we’ve uncovered.”
Series 10 of Digging for Britain can be found on BBC iPlayer in full, with episodes being shown on Sunday nights on BBC2 at 8pm. Episode 6, which features Auckland Castle will be broadcast on February 12th.