Spanish Gallery
In Brief

The Auckland Project

Bishop Auckland

not disclosed

Autumn 2021

Inspired by a cycle of paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán, which have been housed in nearby Auckland Castle for more than 250 years, The Auckland Project’s Spanish Gallery will be the first gallery in the UK dedicated to exploring the arts and culture of Spain and is part of a suite of projects for the south Durham-based regeneration charity.  

Two previously vacant historic buildings in Bishop Auckland’s Market Place are being transformed into a new gallery space.

Behind the façades of Bishop Auckland’s Grade II listed Backhouse Bank building and neighbouring Barrington School buildings, works from the Trust’s own collection will be on display, along with loans from institutions and galleries around the world, including The Hispanic Society of America.

Works will be exhibited across ten galleries, spread over three floors, including a dramatic top-lit, double-height space in an extension to the Backhouse building to sensitively accommodate larger works. In addition, it will include a conference suite and shop, with a separate restaurant.

“For many centuries, Bishop Auckland was a thriving market town, but since the demise of the mining industry it has been affected by an economic and social decline. We intend to use art, faith and heritage as a ‘circuit breaker’ to drive regeneration in the local community.”

Jonathan Ruffer, Founder of The Auckland Project

"The aim is to make the town – the heart of the abandoned Durham coalfields – a tourist destination that holds people for a day or two rather than just a couple of hours... creating hundreds of entry-level jobs in a county that suffers high unemployment"

Harry Pearson, The Guardian, November 2019
Community value

By bringing academics and tourists to Bishop Auckland, this will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the town.

Bishop Auckland has a rich and surprising history, from The Prince Bishops to the Romans and railways. By reigniting interest in this history and attracting new visitors and academics, a bright future can be created for the town and the local community, with opportunities for economic and social regeneration. 

The public will play a major role in the new gallery with education programmes avaliable to them, encouraging visitors to explore and understand the role of Spanish visual culture on European art history.


Our ambition was to create a unified gallery interior and visitor experience by repurposing two distinctly different historic buildings, while also celebrating the juxtaposed architectural interiors along the way. This is achieved in part by introducing a new ‘grand stair’, in what was previously an unused inner courtyard, around which all the galleries are organised, and which becomes a familiar point of orientation for visitors as they move between the galleries.

The project also involved a new north-lit extension which provides flexible activity and education space, whilst also enabling curatorial management and movement of the collection.

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