Jonathan Ruffer spends £30m on Auckland Castle revamp

Jonathan Ruffer at Auckland Castle
Image caption Jonathan Ruffer bought the Zurbaran paintings in March 2011

More than £30m is to be spent turning the former home of the Bishop of Durham into a centre re-telling the history of Christianity in the North East.

Millionaire businessman Jonathan Ruffer has already paid £15m to save a collection of 17th Century Spanish paintings at Auckland Castle.

He now plans to spend a further £18m on revamping the Bishop Auckland castle as a tourist attraction.

Full details of the ambitious plans are due to be unveiled in April.

In March last year, the North Yorkshire-born investment banker created a £15m charity to save 12 works by Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaran, which were due to be sold by the Church of England to raise cash.

'Draw people in'

The deal almost fell through when Church Commissioners imposed planning conditions on the acquisition of the castle.

They were withdrawn when Mr Ruffer threatened to pull the plug on the cash.

Mr Ruffer said: "It will cost about £9m to scrub the castle up and it will probably need the same again to keep the show on the road.

"Ideally a couple of things will happen pretty quickly, but my guess is that it'll take a couple of years at least to get the thing finished.

"The purpose at the centre of it all will be to tell the story of Christianity in the North East and the story of Auckland Castle itself.

"Lots of people get off the train at Durham City, have a look around, wander around the cathedral, have a Big Mac and then clamber back on the train and go to Edinburgh and do the same again.

"I want to draw people into the area with the castle as a focus."

Mr Ruffer said he was in talks with the British Museum, British Library and other major institutions, about hosting exhibitions at Auckland Castle.

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