Berwick-upon-Tweed

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Berwick-upon-Tweed (/ˈbɛrɨk əpɒn ˈtwiːd/ berr-ik ə-pon tweed) or simply Berwick is a town in the county of Northumberland and is the northernmost town in England, on the east coast at the mouth of the River Tweed. It is situated 2.5 miles (4 km) south of the Scottish border.

Berwick-upon-Tweed, the former county town of Berwickshire, had a population of 11,665 at the time of the United Kingdom Census 2001. A civil parish and town council were created in 2008.

Founded during the time of the kingdom of Northumbria, which was part of the Heptarchy, the area was central to historic border war between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland for centuries; the last time it changed hands was when England reconquered it in 1482. Berwick remains a traditional market town and also has some notable architectural features, in particular its defence ramparts and barrack buildings.

The origin of the town’s name is Norse, or Old English, with the second element “wick” either coming from “vik” meaning a bay, or a “wic” meaning a settlement. The first element is also ambiguous, and may refer to either barley (baer) or the headland (“bar”) which cuts across the Tweed estuary. Another interpretation claims “Corn Farm” as the meaning of Berwick.

Berwick was referred to as ‘South Berwick’ by the Scots, to differentiate it from the town of North Berwick, in East Lothian, east of Edinburgh.

The origin of the town’s name is Norse, or Old English, with the second element “wick” either coming from “vik” meaning a bay, or a “wic” meaning a settlement. The first element is also ambiguous, and may refer to either barley (baer) or the headland (“bar”) which cuts across the Tweed estuary. Another interpretation claims “Corn Farm” as the meaning of Berwick.[3]

Berwick was referred to as ‘South Berwick’ by the Scots, to differentiate it from the town of North Berwick, in East Lothian, east of Edinburgh.

In the post-Roman period, the area may have been inhabited by the Brythons of Bryneich, who were in turn conquered by the Angles, who created the kingdom of Bernicia, which united with the Kingdom of Deira to form Northumbria.

In either 973 or 1018 Northumbria north of the Tweed (known as Lothian) was ceded to Scotland. In 1018 the Scots defeated the Northumbrians at the Battle of Carham, which occurred across the River Tweed opposite Coldstream to secure possession of Lothian.

Berwick station stands on the site of a historic medieval castle, where Robert Bruce’s claim was originally declined, and John Balliol’s accepted.

Berwick’s strategic position on the English-Scottish border during centuries of war between the two nations and its relatively great wealth led to a succession of raids, sieges and take-overs. Between 1174 and 1482 the town changed hands between England and Scotland more than 13 times, and was the location of a number of momentous events in the English-Scottish border wars. One of the most brutal sackings was by King Edward I of England in 1296, and set the precedent for bitter border conflict in the Scottish Wars of Independence.

In the 13th century Berwick was one of the most wealthy trading ports in Scotland, providing an annual customs value of £2,190, equivalent to a quarter of all customs revenues received north of the border. A contemporary description of the town asserted that “so populous and of such commercial importance that it might rightly be called another Alexandria, whose riches were the sea and the water its walls.”[6] Amongst the town’s exports were wool, grain and salmon, while merchants from Germany and the Low Countries set up businesses in the town in order to trade.

The Scots also had a mint at Berwick, producing Scottish coinage. In contrast, under English rule, Berwick was a garrison town first, and a port second. In around 1120, King David I of Scotland made Berwick one of Scotland’s four royal burghs, which allowed the town’s freemen a number of rights and privileges.

Berwick had a mediaeval hospital for the sick and poor which was administered by the Church. A charter under the Great Seal of Scotland, confirmed by King James I of Scotland, grants the king’s chaplain “Thomas Lauder of the House of God or Hospital lying in the burgh of Berwick-upon-Tweed, to be held to him for the whole time of his life with all lands, teinds, rents and profits, etc., belonging to the said hospital, as freely as is granted to any other hospital in the Kingdom of Scotland; the king also commands all those concerned to pay to the grantee all things necessary for the support of the hospital. Dated at Edinburgh June 8, in the 20th year of his reign.”

In 1174, Berwick was paid as part of the ransom of William I of Scotland to Henry II of England. It was sold back to Scotland by Richard I of England, to raise money to pay for Crusades. It was destroyed in 1216 by King John of England, who attended in person the razing of the town with some barbarity.

Eddington remarks, “Berwick, by the middle of the 13th century, was considered a second Alexandria, so extensive was its commerce.” However, Berwick appended its signature to King John Balliol’s new treaty with France, England’s old enemy, and on 30 March 1296, Edward I stormed Berwick after a prolonged siege, sacking it with much bloodshed. His army slaughtered almost everyone who resided in the town, even if they fled to the churches, some eight thousand inhabitants being put to the sword. “From that time”, states Eddington, “the greatest merchant city in Scotland sank into a small seaport.”

Edward I went again to Berwick in August 1296 to receive formal homage from some 2,000 Scottish nobles, after defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April and forcing John I of Scotland (John Balliol) to abdicate at Kincardine Castle the following July. (The first town walls were built during the reign of Edward I.) The “homage” was not received well, and the Ragman Roll as it was known, earned itself a name of notoriety in the post-independence period of Scotland. Some believe it to be the origin of the term “rigmarole”, although this may be a folk etymology. An arm of William Wallace was displayed at Berwick after his execution and quartering on 23 August 1305. In 1314 Edward II of England mustered 25,000 men at Berwick, who later fought in (and lost) the Battle of Bannockburn.

On 1 April 1318, it was recaptured by the Scots; Evidence of the Role played by a Spalding in the capture of Berwick: According to Wallis’ Northcumberland, England, vol. 2, p. 435: “Berwick Castle, Sir Pierce Spalding delivered it up to Thomas Randall, Earl of Murray, April 2, 1318 in consideration of lands given him in Angus, in Scotland.Berwick Castle was also taken after a three-month siege. In 1330 “Domino Roberto de Lawedre” of The Bass, described as Custodian or Keeper of the Marches and the Castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed, received, apparently upon the termination of his employment there, £33.6s.8d, plus a similar amount, from the Scottish Exchequer.

The English retook Berwick some time shortly after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. In October 1357, a treaty was signed at Berwick by which the Scottish estates undertook to pay 100,000 marks as a ransom for David II of Scotland, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville’s Cross on 17 October 1346.

In 1461/2 Berwick was recovered by the Scots and Robert Lauder of Edrington was put in charge of the castle. Scott relates: “About 1462 Berwick Castle was put into the hands of Robert Lauder of Edrington, an important official and soldier in Scotland at that time. Lauder kept his position uninterruptedly until 1474 when he was succeeded by David, Earl of Crawford. In 1464 Robert Lauder was paid £20 for repairs made to Berwick Castle.”

On 3 February 1478 Robert Lauder of The Bass and Edrington was again appointed Keeper of the castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed with a retainer of £250 per annum. He continued in that position until the last year of Scottish occupation, when Patrick Hepburn, 1st Lord Hailes, had possession.

In 1482 the town was captured by Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III, although not officially merged into England. England has administered the town since this date.

In 1551, the town was made a county corporate.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, vast sums – one source reports “£128,648, the most expensive undertaking of the Elizabethan period” – were spent on its fortifications, in a new Italian style (trace italienne), designed both to withstand artillery and to facilitate its use from within the fortifications. Sir Richard Lee designed some of the Elizabethan works. Although most of Berwick Castle was demolished in the 19th century to make way for the railway, the military barracks remain, as do the town’s rampart walls – one of the finest remaining examples of its type in the country.

In 1603, Berwick was the first English town to greet James VI of Scotland on his way to being crowned James I of England – upon crossing Berwick Bridge, James is supposed to have declared the town neither belonging to England nor belonging to Scotland but part of the united Crown’s domain.

In 1639 the army of Charles I faced that of General Alexander Leslie at Berwick in the Bishops’ Wars, which were concerned with bringing the Presbyterian Church of Scotland under Charles’s control. The two sides did not fight, but negotiated a settlement, “the Pacification of Berwick”, in June, under which the King agreed that all disputed questions should be referred to another General Assembly or to the Scottish Parliament.

Holy Trinity Church was built in 1650–52, on the initiative of the governor, Colonel George Fenwicke. Churches of the Commonwealth period are very rare. The church has no steeple, supposedly at the behest of Oliver Cromwell, who passed through the town in 1650 on his way to the Battle of Dunbar.

Berwick was never formally annexed to England. Contention about whether the town belonged to England or Scotland was ended, though, in 1707 by the union of the two. Berwick remains within the laws and legal system of England and Wales. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 (since repealed) deemed that whenever legislation referred to England, it applied to Berwick, without attempting to define Berwick as part of England. (England now is officially defined as “subject to any alteration of boundaries under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of that Act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly.”, which thus includes Berwick.)

Berwick remained a county in its own right, and was not included in Northumberland for Parliamentary purposes until 1885. The Redistribution Act 1885, reduced the number of Members of Parliament (MPs) returned by the town from two to one.

On 1 April 1974, the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was created by the merger of the previous borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed with Belford Rural District, Glendale Rural District and Norham and Islandshires Rural District. The Interpretation Act 1978 provides that in legislation passed between 1967 and 1974, “a reference to England includes Berwick upon Tweed and Monmouthshire” (Monmouthshire is now fully in Wales).

In 2008, SNP MSP Christine Grahame made calls in the Scottish Parliament for Berwick to become part of Scotland again, saying, “Even the Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council leader, who is a Liberal Democrat, backs the idea and others see the merits of reunification with Scotland.”

However in 2009 Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick, said the move would require a massive legal upheaval and is not realistic. However he is contradicted by another member of his party, the Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis, who was born and brought up in Berwick. Purvis has asked for the border to be moved twenty miles south (i.e., south of the Tweed) to include Berwick borough council rather than just the town, and has said, “There’s a strong feeling that Berwick should be in Scotland, Until recently, I had a gran in Berwick and another in Kelso, and they could see that there were better public services in Scotland. Berwick as a borough council is going to be abolished and it would then be run from Morpeth, more than 30 miles away.”

According to a poll conducted by a TV company, 60% of residents favoured Berwick rejoining Scotland. The issue is to be the centre of a new BBC comedy-drama series, A Free Country, commissioned in 2008 from writer Tony Saint.

In 2009, the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was abolished as part of wider structural changes to local government in England. All functions previously exercised by Berwick Borough Council were transferred to Northumberland County Council, which is the unitary authority for the area.

During periods of Scottish administration Berwick was the county town of Berwickshire, to which the town gave its name. Thus at various points in the Middle Ages and from 1482 (when Berwick became administrated by England) Berwickshire had the unique distinction of being the only county in the British Isles to be named after a town in another country.

The town of Berwick was a county corporate for most purposes from 1482, up until 1885, when it was fully incorporated Northumberland. Between 1885, and 1974, Berwick (north of the Tweed) was a borough council in its own right, and then on 1 April 1974 it was merged with Belford Rural District, Glendale Rural District and Norham and Islandshires Rural District.

During these periods, Berwick Borough Council and Berwickshire County Council (or District Council) existed, both named after the same town, but covering entirely different areas.

The Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was abolished on 1 April 2009. From that date, Northumberland County Council assumed its functions, and those of the other districts in its area, to become a unitary authority. A new Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council, a parish council, has been created covering Berwick-upon-Tweed, Tweedmouth and Spittal. It is expected to take over the former Borough’s mayoralty and regalia. Berwick-upon-Tweed is a parliamentary constituency.

Slightly more than 60% of the population is employed in the service sector, including shops, hotels and catering, financial services and most government activity, including health care. About 13% is in manufacturing, 10% in agriculture, and 8% in construction. Some current and recent Berwick economic activities include salmon fishing, shipbuilding, engineering, sawmilling, fertilizer production, and the manufacture of tweed and hosiery.

Berwick Town Centre comprises the Mary Gate and High Street where many local shops and some retail chains exist. There is a small supermarket in the vicinity too. A new office development is due to be built in the Walker Gate.

There is a retail park in Tweedmouth consisting of some units. Berwick Borough Council refused a proposal from Asda in 2006 to build a store near the site, later giving Tesco the green light for their new store in the town, which opened on 13 September 2010. Asda went on to take over the Co-op shop unit in Tweedmouth early 2010.

A Morrisons supermarket and petrol station, alongside a branch of McDonald’s and a Travelodge UK all exist on Loaning Meadows close to the outskirts of the town near the current A1.

The old A1 road passes through Berwick. The modern A1 goes around the town to the west. The town is on the East Coast Main Line railway, and has a station. A small seaport at Tweedmouth facilitates the import and export of goods, but provides no passenger services.

The local speech of Berwick-upon-Tweed shares many characteristics with both other rural Northumberland dialects and some Scottish dialects. In 1892, linguist Richard Oliver Heslop divided the county of Northumberland into four dialect zones and placed the Berwick dialect in the “north-Northumbrian” region, an area extending from Berwick down to the River Coquet. Likewise, Charles Jones (1997) classes the dialect as “predominantly North-Northumbrian” with “a few features shared with Scots”.

Features of this dialect include the “Northumbrian Burr”, a distinct pronunciation of the letter R historically common to many dialects of the North East of England; and predominant non-rhoticity: older speakers tend to be slightly rhotic, while younger speakers are universally non-rhotic.

A sociological study of the English-Scottish border region conducted in 2000 found that locals of Alnwick, 30 miles south of Berwick, associated the Berwick accent with Scottish influence. Conversely, those from Eyemouth, Scotland (9 miles north of Berwick) firmly classed Berwick speech as English, identifying it as “Northumbrian or Geordie”.

Berwick Rangers F.C. were formed in the town in 1881. Despite being located in England the club plays in the Scottish Football League to make the distances travelled by fans shorter. The home stadium of Berwick Rangers is Shielfield Park. The club currently plays in the Scottish Third Division. Berwick Rangers and Berwick RFC are unique in that they are English teams that operate within Scottish leagues, although at one point the now-defunct Gretna F.C., based in Gretna, played in the English football system.

There is a curious apocryphal story that Berwick is (or recently was) technically at war with Russia. The story tells that since Berwick had changed hands several times, it was traditionally regarded as a special, separate entity, and some proclamations referred to “England, Scotland and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed”. One such was the declaration of the Crimean War against Russia in 1853, which Queen Victoria supposedly signed as “Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions”. However, when the Treaty of Paris (1856) was signed to conclude the war, “Berwick-upon-Tweed” was left out. This meant that, supposedly, one of Britain’s smallest towns was officially at war with one of the world’s largest powers – and the conflict extended by the lack of a peace treaty for over a century.

The BBC programme Nationwide investigated this story in the 1970s, and found that while Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris, it was not mentioned in the declaration of war either. The question remained as to whether Berwick had ever been at war with Russia in the first place. The true situation is that since the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 had already made it clear that all references to England included Berwick, the town had no special status at either the start or end of the war. The grain of truth in this legend could be that some important documents from the 17th century did mention Berwick separately, but this became unnecessary after 1746.

According to a story by George Hawthorne in The Guardian of 28 December 1966, the London correspondent of Pravda visited the Mayor of Berwick, Councillor Robert Knox, and the two made a mutual declaration of peace. Knox said “Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds.” The same story, cited to the Associate Press, appeared in The Baltimore Sun of 17 December 1966; The Washington Post of 18 December 1966; and The Christian Science Monitor of 22 December 1966. At some point in turn the real events seem to have been turned into a story of a “Soviet official” having signed a “peace treaty” with Mayor Knox; Knox’s remark to the Pravda correspondent was preserved in this version.

Landmarks include:

  • Berwick Barracks, now maintained by English Heritage, and built between 1717 and 1721, the design attributed to Hawksmoor.
  • The ramparts or defensive wall around the town centre.
  • The Old Bridge, 15-span sandstone arch bridge measuring 1,164 feet in length, built between 1610 and 1624, at a cost of £15,000. The bridge continues to serve road traffic, but in one direction only. The bridge, part of the main route from London to Edinburgh was ordered by James VI of Scotland.
  • The Royal Border Bridge, designed and built under the supervision of Robert Stephenson in 1847 at a cost of £253,000, is a 720-yard-long railway viaduct with 28 arches, carrying the East Coast Main Line 126 feet above the River Tweed. It was opened by Queen Victoria in 1850.
  • The Royal Tweed Bridge, built in 1925 and in its time having the longest concrete span in the country at 361 feet, was originally designed to carry the A1 road across the Tweed; the town now has a road bypass to the west. In the early 2000s, its fabric was renovated, the road and pavement layout amended, and new street lighting added.
  • The Union Bridge (five miles upstream), the world’s oldest surviving suspension bridge.
  • The Guildhall, built in 1750 in a Classical style, and formerly housing the town’s prison on the top floor.
  • Berwick Parish Church, unique for having been built during the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell. The building, constructed around 1650 using stone from the 13th century castle (parts of which still stand by the railway station), began as a plain preaching box, with no steeple, stained glass or other decorations. Much altered with a conventional interior layout, contents include a pulpit thought to have been built for John Knox during his stay in the town.
  • Dewars Lane Runs down Back Street just off Bridge Street, and, like other Berwick locations, was painted by LS Lowry. The painter was a frequent visitor to Berwick, especially in the 1930s, when he stayed at the Castle Hotel.
  • Marshall Meadows Country House Hotel, Georgian mansion to the north of the town is the most northern hotel in England, located just 275 metres from the Scottish border.
  • Charles Dickens stayed at the Kings Arms Hotel on Hide Hill down by the main high street in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

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