Jonathan Ruffer was born in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, and privately educated at Marlborough College. He attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating in 1972. He began his career as a stockbroker before qualifying as a barrister. Ruffer gained considerable experience in the City working for Schroders, Dunbar and Odey Asset Management becoming knowledgeable about all aspects of the asset management business. In 1994, he co-founded Ruffer Investment Management Ltd, Ruffer LLP in 2004, with Robert Shirley and Jane Tufnell. Ruffer served as chief executive from 1994 to 2012. He is now chairman. The firm, with offices in London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Guensey, had £22.1 billion assets under management on 31st August 2018.

The success of his business has made Jonathan Ruffer a very wealthy man. He is not, however, all about money. Foremost in his life is his faith. He is a committed evangelical Christian believing that the lessons taught by Jesus, as the Son of God, remain fundamentally true and relevant to our age. His philanthropy is informed in all aspects by his beliefs, which in turn are founded on a careful reading of the scriptures. In a telling interview with A.N. Wilson, published in the Financial Times on 7th November 2014, Ruffer explains how and why he was drawn to the defining project of his philanthropic career, the regeneration of Bishop Auckland in County Durham.

Bishop Auckland is home to Auckland Castle, the seat for hundreds of years of the extraordinarily wealthy ‘prince bishops’ of Durham, who down to the nineteenth century exercised secular as well as religious authority within their realm. The diocese of Durham, controlled by the bishop as the supreme authority, managed a vast estate of 674,000 acres, harvesting prodigious rents from tenants of agricultural and mining businesses. All this changed in 1835 when the process of centralising control of the Church of England finances began in earnest. In 2010, with the glory days of the prince bishops long gone, the decision was taken to sell Auckland Castle together with a rare collection of religious paintings by the baroque seventeenth-century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran. As a collector of religious art and admirer of Zurbaran, Ruffer’s interest was aroused, not because he wanted to acquire the paintings personally, but because he feared they would be wrenched from what had been their home since the mid-eighteenth century, sold abroad and lost to the nation.

Ruffer entered into negotiations with the Church Commissioners and, inspired by his faith, decided that he would buy Auckland Castle, its 800-acre estate and the paintings, and place the entirety in trust for the benefit of the North East. He had conceived the idea that these assets might form the basis for a planned regeneration of Bishop Auckland driven by tourism, which simultaneously would benefit the causes of education, religion and culture. The Auckland Castle Trust was set up for this purpose and then its sister trust, Eleven Arches, was established three years later in 2014. Eleven Arches is responsible for a spectacular outdoor show deploying 1,000 volunteers to relate in 29 scenes the myths and legends of English history over 2,000 years. It was performed 17 times before 8,000 strong audiences in the summer of 2018. Meanwhile, the restoration of Auckland Castle, the building of a visitor centre, and the creation of an art museum for the Zurbaran paintings have proceeded apace to open in 2019. The goal, states Ruffer, “is to establish Bishop Auckland as an international tourist destination, attracting visitors and investment which will contribute to the betterment of the area and empower the community.”  

The Auckland Project, as it is now known, is remarkable for its scale and ambition. It is an example of transformational philanthropy, whereby the philanthropist seeks to make a fundamental difference to the lives of many people. In the words of Jonathan Ruffer, “I want to see Bishop Auckland as a wonderful place socially, economically, morally, spiritually. What I want to see is a change in the way people are.” This is a noble goal that he pursues not only through the Auckland Project, in which he has invested tens of millions of pounds, but also in grants made to numerous good causes through his trust, Lempriere Pringle. In 2016-17, for example, the trust made a grant of £1 million to the County Durham Community Foundation and another for £5.3 million to the Seedbed Christian Communities Trust. When, in 2014, A.N. Wilson asked Jonathan to explain the motivation for his generosity in voluntarily giving back to society at such a scale he replied: “Why have I done this? … The answer is, I am really worried about the inequalities there are and I want to help reduce that inequality.” A noble goal indeed.


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Smith, S. (2016). Cue the levitating longboat: the £35m all-singing, all-dancing history of Britain, The Guardian. Available here (Accessed: 08/03/2018).

Whitfield, G. (2015). Monday interview: Jonathan Ruffer of Auckland Castle, The Chronicle, Available here (Accessed: 08/03/2018).

Wilson, A. (2018). Man on a mission: Jonathan Ruffer and the Auckland Castle Trust, The Financial Times, Available here (Accessed: 08/03/2018).

Wikipedia. (2018). Jonathan Ruffer, Available here (Accessed: 08/03/2018).