The earliest known reference to Bishop Auckland itself is as a gift of a Bishop’s borough given to the Bishop of Durham as a gift by King Canute in around 1020. However, a village almost certainly existed on the town’s present site long before this, with there being a church in South Church from as early as Saxon times. Furthermore, the Romans had a look-out post where Auckland Castle is sited today and a 10 acre (0.04 km²) fort at nearby Binchester.
Much of the town’s earliest history surrounds its links with the Bishops of Durham. In 1083, monks were sent from Durham Cathedral to establish a collegiate church, and in around 1183 Bishop Pudsey established a manor house in the town. Bishop Bek who preferred the town as his main residence over Durham Castle due to its proximity to hunting grounds later converted the manor house into a castle.
With the arrival of large scale coal mining, and the associated railways in the nineteenth century the town grew rapidly.
Coal mining continued as a major industry until the mid-twentieth century when it went into massive decline.
A third tier was added at the May 2007 local elections when a new town council was established. After the elections, the council elected Barbara Laurie as the town’s first mayor.
The town is a part of the Bishop Auckland parliamentary constituency, and is currently represented at Westminster by Helen Goodman MP (Labour). The town is in the North East England European Parliament constituency.