Fore Bondgate: History

Fore Bondgate is one of the oldest recorded streets in the historic town of Bishop Auckland. Bishop Auckland lies on an ancient Roman road, which ran approximately from south to north, along the line of what is now Newgate Street in the town centre.

Fore Bondgate is at the northern end of Newgate Street, to the west of the town’s Market Place. The area around Fore Bondgate and nearby streets, including North Bondgate, High Bondgate and part of Finkle Street, is known to have been a village green type area from medieval times.

Fore Bondgate and the other streets developed gradually around this village green and the first historical records of streets in the area date from 1243.

Eventually the former village green become a built-up area and Fore Bondgate became one of the town’s principal streets, the main route into the town centre from the west.

By the 16th century, an inn and stables, recorded as The Bay Horse in 1530, were in operation on the site of the current Bay Horse pub, which was built in 1898.

The Bay Horse Pub, Fore Bondgate, Bishop Auckland
The Bay Horse, Fore Bondgate, Bishop Aukland

Another well-known inn on Fore Bondgate was the Shepherd’s Inn. This was located on the site where the building housing Sam Zair’s Café and The Spice Lounge restaurant is now.

It was controlled by the Hunter family in the 18th century. They built an extension on the roof so their visitors could see the horse races held just outside the town, where the Kynren site is now located.

They also built an extension to the rear, but this encroached on an existing right of way pathway. To overcome objections, they built a partly sunken footpath to allow people to travel along the pathway. This section of pathway was dark and gloomy, and many stories and rumours about ghosts and murders were told about it, although there’s no evidence of any strange or unusual events, apart from the escaped lion! In the 1920s, PC Robinson found a lion there which had escaped from a travelling circus that had set up in the Market Place.

The building had been divided into a private house and a public house by the 18th century, and the public house contained two large rooms, the long room and the commercial room, which were used to hold public meetings and the magistrates’ court before the Town Hall opened in the early 1860s. A doctor used to see patients there in the 18th century. According to local lore, he made his poorer patients wait out of sight of his wealthier patients in the partly underground pathway, leading to the name ‘the Doctor’s Tunnel’.

Photographs of a tunnel structure in the Bondgate area being covered up by modern roadworks were taken by David Shevels in November 1977, and he published them online in 2014.

Bishop Auckland grew significantly throughout the 19th century, especially after the coming of the railways (it once had seven railway lines meeting in the town!) and Fore Bondgate became one of its principal shopping streets.

By the early 20th century, it was a well-established destination for townsfolk and visitors to Bishop Auckland. Businesses included Sam Zair’s shop, now Sam Zair’s Café, and Hinton’s at the corner of Fore Bondgate and the Market Place, which now houses the No. 42 art gallery and venue, operated by the Auckland Project.

Sam Zair at his shop in Bishop Auckland, 1950s.

In more recent years, Fore Bondgate has become the location for many independent businesses, with a wide range of shops and services, including quirky gift shops, cafés, a bookshop, art galleries, pubs, restaurants, hair and beauty salons and more. Visit the Fore Bondgate Street Directory to view the full range of shops and services on Fore Bondgate: the heart of Bishop Auckland.