A little known historic building located on Palace Green between Durham’s Cathedral and Castle is to be restored. The scaffolding is already up around the former Exchequer and Chancery Building and the aim is to refurbish it so it can be opened to the public for the first time.
The building was constructed in the Fifteenth century by Bishop Robert Neville. It was designed to be a centre of administration, used to keep track of legal and financial goings-on in the County Palatinate. The County Palatinate covered the area between the Tees and the Tyne, and it also included parts of Northumberland and Yorkshire. Bishops wielded a lot of power in this region as they had the right to control legal and financial transactions on behalf of the monarch. They also grew rich from the large estates they owned, which included assets such as farms, mines and quarries. They were referred to as Prince Bishops, a title which reflected their immense influence. The Prince Bishops lived in Durham Castle and were seen as having a similar status to earls. Many of the County Palatinate’s records are still kept in the Exchequer and Chancery Building.
The Exchequer and Chancery Building is one of the few structures used by the Prince Bishops to have survived. Since the 1850s it has served as a part of Durham University’s library, as a part of the Palace Green Library Complex. The purpose of the renovation is to create a cutting-edge exhibition space in addition to facilities for learning, research and conservation. It is the latest stage in the restoration of the whole of the Palace Green Library Complex, which has been ongoing since 2010.
The restoration of the Exchequer and Chancery Building will include repairs to stonework, the refurbishment of indoor fixtures and fittings, and improvements to the storage conditions of collections of ancient books. When the work is completed, hopefully at some point next year, the University plans to provide guided tours of the building for the public.
University librarian Jon Purcell said, “We’re delighted the Exchequer building is to be refurbished. It’s a hidden treasure that the University is keen to share more widely.”
Dr Keith Bartlett, the University’s director of culture, added, “We’re all looking forward to seeing the beautiful medieval features of the Exchequer Building restored and revealed. We also hope to learn more about the building as we uncover features which have been behind bookcases for decades. The Exchequer is a gem of a building with many stories to tell, from the era of the Prince Bishops to the early days of the University and its libraries.”