Berwick upon Tweed is the most historic and northerly town of England with perhaps the most eventful history. Situated just south of the Scottish Borders and 65 miles north of Newcastle. Berwick has changed hands between England and Scotland thirteen times over the years, as the struggle for power of the town continued up until 1482 when the town finally became part of England and still remains part of it today. Berwick was once the most prosperous merchant towns in Britain. People can still be forgiven for thinking that Berwick is part of Scotland, especially when the town’s football club plays in the Scottish league.
It is said that Berwick is still at war with Russia. This claim goes back to when Berwick’s status at the time of the Crimean War was independent, so when the war was declared against Great Britain and Ireland, Berwick upon Tweed was also named. After the war when the peace treaty was signed Berwick’s name was not included, so for many years the town was technically still at war with the Russians.
The turbulent history of Berwick upon Tweed continues to be seen in the architecture surrounding the town today. Explore the town walls, built in the 16th century by King Edward I, to keep the invading Scottish armies out of the town, the most expensive construction project in Europe at this time. Sea Defenses in Berwick-upon-Tweed The defensive walls supplemented Berwick castle which stood on the site where the railway station now stands. The walls are the still the best preserved town defences in Britain which can now be visited when walking the walls. The standard of the walls are one of the contributing factors to the history of Berwick upon Tweed being so deep and exciting. From the earliest of days, Berwick has been as important military town, housing soldiers of the garrison in the first purpose built infantry barracks in England from 1721. The Berwick Barracks now houses the ‘By Beat of Drum’ exhibition which gives visitors an insight into the life of the British infantryman from the Civil War to the First World War.
Go inside the stylish Georgian Guildhall that sits prominently in the town centre and take part in a spooky tour of the hidden jail cells within. Peer through the bars and hear about the men and women who were thrown in the cells with no protection from the wind and rain with only bars at the windows. Look out for the balcony beneath the clock where prisoners took their exercise walk. The old town stocks even remain outside the hall.
When walking through Berwick try and spot the interesting street names and guess why they might be named so. The Eastern gate in the town is still known as Cowgate because farmers brought their cattle through it, right up until the 1950’s. Castlegate is a reminder of the ancient castle which stood where the train station now resides. The architecture is a prominent part of Berwick upon Tweed; the three bridges which stretch across the River Tweed are a focal point in the town, consisting of The Old Bridge, The Royal Tweed Bridge and The Royal Border Bridge, with the oldest built in 1610. The bridge with ships especially in mind, the second of fifteen arches is the highest point to allow ships to pass freely under the arch.
Berwick’s history consists of fascinating days gone by. Alongside the production of shoes and ropes the evidence of the town’s granaries and ice houses, used to keep River Salmon fresh can still be seen. Coal mining also left its mark on the joining coastal villages of Spittal and Scremerston. The Coastal trade in and out of Berwick was substantial. In 1876 the Tweed Dock was opened to provide the town with an area of deep water for trading ships. Once a huge herring port, sadly the trade did not continue however signs are still evident across the shore to Holly Island. Visitors to the island will also find it interesting to explore the Lindisfarne Priory, an important site for Christian Anglo-Saxon England. Adventures across the causeway to Holy Island are well documented with people becoming stranded as the tide comes in. Remember to check the tide times before crossing.
To learn more about the history of Berwick take a walk around the town and visit these places of interest. Even join up with a local tour guide who will take you round each of the historic sites whilst telling the story behind each one.