VEST Construction, based in Bishop Auckland has recently completed restoration of the historic Robinson Arch in Market Place which is the formal entrance to Auckland Castle.
The restoration of the Grade I listed archway is part of the Auckland Project, which is dedicated to the regeneration, conservation, and celebration of the stories and heritage of the former home of the Prince Bishops of Durham.
History of the structure
Robinson Arch is a Grade I listed building overlooking Market Place but more importantly, the entrance to the 800-year old estate and Palace, created and used by the Prince Bishops of Durham. Commissioned by Bishop Trevor in 1760 and designed by Sir Thomas Rokerby.
The £500,000 project, which completed earlier this year included intricate works to Bishop Auckland’s clock tower, which dates back to the mid-18th century. The tower required extensive refurbishment and restoration elements by a team of specialists after prolonged weathering, wood bearing insects, damp and age.
The full extent of the project included an initial phase to make alterations to properties around the archway to create new walls around the layout. The second phase of the work included intricate masonry repairs, indents and stone replacements alongside removal of iron cramps whilst re-building each corner of the tower.
In addition, structural timber roof elements were replaced or repaired as well as lead elements to the original roof. Clock dials and associated mechanisms underwent a full specialist refurbishment and electrical upgrades were provided including new façade lighting. Finally, the historic bell was removed for extensive works and rehoisted into new timber and steel frames to complete the project.
The biggest challenge for the project was repairs to all four faces of the clocktower and bell chamber which required sequential dismantling and reinstatement of each corner as well as the large-scale replacement of the original oak roof structure, the refurbishment of the copper clock faces and original wind vane.
Appointment of the contractor
The project was awarded to VEST as part of an ongoing relationship with the Auckland Project which and was shortlisted for the recent Constructing Excellence Conversion & Regeneration Award in October of 2021.
An unexpected discovery
During the refurbishment work, it was discovered that the 450kg bronze bell was founded in circa 1175, 600 years before the tower was built. Historians found an inscription on the bell that translated to “Stephanus made me” which had been incised into the mould when the bell was made. Because of this discovery, refurbishment of the bell was commissioned. The bell is thought to be unique for an English bell of this time, being considerably larger than other examples and is thought to be more similar to the German style bells of this period.
Speaking about the project Gavin Vest, Managing Director of VEST Construction said:
“This was a really fantastic project to be appointed to. The historic archway was a real challenge because of the craftsmanship and intricacies involved but the end result is simply stunning and will certainly stand the test of time for future generations.
"It’s great to be part of something so historic, we feel very privileged to have been included in the project team and it’s certainly a point of pride for the company.”
David Ronn, Project sponsor from The Auckland Project said of the completion:
“It was great to work with such an experienced team on this project. We have a really good relationship with Vest so they were natural partners for a project of this size and importance. We are thrilled with the end result and hopefully the Robinson Arch will be enjoyed by generations to come. It’s a real head-turner.”
The project team included Space Architects, Todd Milburn Partnership, TGA Consulting Engineers, Blackett Ord and Turner & Townsend and is part of a series of projects completed by Vest which includes the Auckland Tower, the Entrance Lobbies at Durham Cathedral, Bishop Cosin’s Library and The Exchequer Building on Palace Green, Durham.