Tag Archives: County Durham

Binchester Roman Town bought by the Auckland Castle Trust for £2m

A Roman site dubbed the Pompeii of the North has been bought for £2m, allaying fears for its future.

The Binchester Roman Town, where archeologists unearthed artefacts dating back 1,800 years, has been bought by the Auckland Castle Trust.

The Church Commissioners have accepted a £2m bid for the site, having originally rejected it.

Trust bosses had launched a petition urging the commissioners to accept the bid, which 4,000 people signed.

The trust had feared that the commissioners’ plans to sell the site in two lots could have made it harder to preserve the fort and ensure there is public access to it, but have now spoken of saving it for the nation in its entirety.

The fort, on the banks of the River Wear in County Durham, on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland, a mile from Auckland Castle, hit the international headlines in the summer when it was revealed archaeologists had uncovered some of the most exciting historical finds in living memory.

The commissioners then announced plans to sell it in two lots. While the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and can’t be built on, one plot includes Binchester Hall and has planning permission for conversion and development, while the second includes 50% of the Roman remains.

The trust launched an 11th hour bid to buy the site for £2m, ahead of a tender deadline today, Monday.

Bosses feared that if it was split between two owners it could open the risk for surrounding development, curtail public access and see the end of years of academic research. The organisation argued that bringing both plots under its wing would safeguard future access and research.

Its initial bid was rejected, sparking the e-petition which 4,000 signed. And now, the commissioners have accepted the original bid.

Dr Chris Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s head curator, said:

“This is wonderful news and we are delighted that Binchester will now be protected for future generations.

“Contracts still have to be exchanged, but the Auckland Castle Trust has successfully come through the tender process as the preferred bidder and now we can start to look to the future of this vitally important site and ensure its past and status as one of not just Britain’s but Europe’s most important Roman sites is secured.

“Here at Auckland Castle we have been thrilled by the goodwill and support we have received as we strove to raise awareness about Binchester.

“Our first priorities are to secure the site for the winter, work with Durham County Council and English Heritage to help shape Binchester’s future and to start pulling together plans to ensure the Roman remains continue to be available for archaeologists and the public to enjoy for generations to come.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  23 Sept 2014

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Developers “could buy County Durham Roman site”

Concerns have been raised that the site of a Roman settlement dubbed the Pompeii of the North could be sold to developers.

Binchester, just outside Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has some of Britain’s best-preserved Roman remains, including a bath house with seven-foot walls and painted plaster.

Last year a statue head, possibly of a local Roman god, was found by an archaeology student helping with the major excavation works that are being carried out.

The land where the settlement has stood for around 1,800 years is owned by the Church Commissioners. They are selling ten plots around Bishop Auckland, including two adjoining ones which cover the Binchester site.

The Auckland Castle Trust, financed by city philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer and which is aiming to reinvigorate the local area with tourism by tapping into its heritage, has made a £2 million bid for the plots.

Although the Roman settlement itself could not be developed, an old hall on one of the plots could be, affecting access to the site. Selling the plots off separately could also hamper archaeologists’ work.

 Mr Ruffer, chairman of the trust, said the £2 million bid was ten per cent higher than their own valuation of the site.

We have done this because there is no one else in a position to do it and Binchester must be secured by someone who has a heart for Bishop Auckland and a deep understanding of the site’s importance in a national and international context,” he said.

The trust has called for the public to back its bid by writing to the Church Commissioners.

David Ronn, chief executive of the Auckland Castle Trust, said: “We need to save the best of Bishop Auckland’s, County Durham’s, the North-East’s and indeed the UK’s past to take into the future.”

 Dr David Petts, lecturer in archaeology at Durham University who has been project co-ordinator on the Binchester excavation, said: “Binchester is one of the best preserved Roman archaeological sites in Britain and deserves to be protected for future generations to visit.”

Only a small percentage of the settlement, which surrounded a fort on the road north to Hadrian’s Wall, has been revealed so far.

Source –  Northern Echo, 29 Aug 2014

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Rare harvest mouse found in County Durham

An endearing but rare animal for the North East has been found in one of its most northerly locations ever.

A dead Harvest Mouse was found near Bowburn in County Durham and reported to Durham Wildlife Trust.

Trust director Jim Cokill said: “We were alerted to this animal by a member of the public. It is a significant new record.”

The trust checked with the Environmental Records Information Centre (ERIC), based at the Great North Museum in Newcastle which collects information and sightings of wildlife in the region.

They have only 45 confirmed sightings for the region stretching back to 1974, so it’s a pretty rare creature,” said Mr Cokill.

Most of the records are in the south, around the Tees Valley, where there was a reintroduction project.

“There are no sightings from the area where this animal was found.

“Although this particular animal was dead, the report does raise hopes that there is a population living in that location and Durham Wildlife Trust will be trying to confirm that.”

The harvest mouse is the UK‘s smallest mouse and only weighs 6g.

It is mainly found from central Yorkshire southwards. Isolated records from Scotland and Wales probably result from the release of captive animals.

Katherine Pinnock, ERIC co-ordinator for the North East, said: “ This is a very exciting record because of the location. It improves our knowledge about this species.”

The find will be discussed at ERIC’s wildlife recording conference on October 11 at the Great North Museum, which is free and open to the public.

People can log any wildlife sightings on www.ericnortheast.org.uk

Harvest mice are extremely active climbers and feed in the stalk zone of long grasses and reeds, particularly around dusk and dawn.

Breeding nests are the most obvious sign indicating the presence of harvest mice.

The harvest mouse is the only British mammal to build nests of woven grass well above ground. Harvest mice have many predators, including weasels, stoats, foxes, cats, owls, hawks, crows, even pheasants and their average lifespan is 18 months.

Harvest mice usually have two or three litters a year in the wild. The young are abandoned after about 16 days.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  26 Aug 2014

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Earth collapses to reveal 100ft sinkhole in County Durham

Earth has collapsed to reveal a 100ft-wide sinkhole in County Durham that is so deep the bottom cannot be seen.

The gaping void, thought to be the result of mine workings deep beneath the surface, is just a stone’s throw from a  farmhouse.

And it was three times smaller when it was first discovered on Thursday morning, at Cowshill, in the rural area of Weardale, by Durham University academic Sam Hillyard.

The 39-year-old had been out shooting rabbits with her black Labrador Jack and was returning to her home  when she noticed the 30ft hole.

Overnight, the hole sank further to reveal an abyss. And it is feared rain forecast for the weekend may see it become larger still.

Sam’s partner John Hensby  said: “Sam came back and she was looking quite shocked.

“She told me that a hole had appeared and I said I best go and have a look.

“At the time, it was about five metres round. Throughout Thursday night it got bigger and bigger until it was about three times that size on Friday morning.

“It is about 35 metres wide and you can’t see the bottom of it.

“The sound was phenomenal. We could hear rumbling and smashing and crashing from down below; all of these great lumps of earth were falling in and falling in.

“If one of the dogs or the sheep fell in we would never see them again.

“On Friday morning it looked to be about 100ft deep.”

The couple’s home is between two former mines, Sedling Pit and Burtree Pastures Pit. Today Sam and John live in the old pit master’s home and the house is surrounded by sheep farms.

But one of the old mine shafts remains just metres from where the ground has given way.

John informed Durham County Council and Durham Police of the hole as a precaution.

> At which point, if there was any comedic justice, a police spokesperson should have been quoted as saying: “We have received a report of a sinkhole, and we’re looking into it…”

Now, they will wait to see if it gets any deeper as downpours are expected for Monday.

John said: “With more rain coming tomorrow and on Monday we could see a lot more of the hole.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  24 Aug 2014

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North East parks are our ‘Natural Health Service’

UNEMPLOYED IN TYNE & WEAR

It’s called the Natural Health Service – and sums up the therapeutic benefits flowing from green spaces and contact with wildlife.

Nature is good for us. This is something that we intuitively know, and for which there is mounting evidence,” says Northumberland Wildlife Trust chief executive Mike Pratt.

Stroll through a nature reserve, or just watch wildlife from your window – all contribute to our physical, mental and emotional well being.”

For many urban dwellers, it is parks which offer a link to the natural world.

Many people talk about “the other NHS” – the alternative and preventative health benefits that nature provided for free,” says Mike.

After all, we are animals and are intrinsically linked to the ecosystem and life support provided through the surrounding environment.

“So it’s no surprise that we feel better when we interact with wildlife, and enjoy…

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Oi, Milliband – Where’s My Free Owl ?

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Seems a Surrealist managed to hack into Labour’s  press team’s Twitter account yesterday, giving the impression that  Ed Miliband had come up with his most revolutionary policy so far.

Everybody should have his own owl,’ said the tweet that quickly took flight on social media.

One tweeter said: ‘We had  hoped our compulsory owl  guarantee would be a head  turning policy, but sadly it’s no longer going to take flight. #tweettwoo’.

Another, Lucy Vine, said: ‘You know… I think a free owl would actually genuinely make me vote Labour.’

More serious-minded observers pointed out that it would be a  policy unlikely to find support at the Treasury, as baby barn owls cost around £80 each.

To provide one for all 63million people in the country would  cost £5billion a year, or around 5 per cent of the entire budget for the NHS.

But if you think…

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County Durham Gets A New Flag

durham flag

County Durham has a new flag,  unveiled (or possibly unfurled) in a ceremony at Durham Cathedral on 21 November 2013.

The design  is based on the St Cuthbert’s cross, with the whole design counter-changed horizontally between the County Durham colours of blue and yellow.

The design was chosen over several others by public vote in a competition. You can view the other designs here –

http://andystrangeway.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/county-durham-flag-finalists-voting-commences/

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