Berwick is like the Roman god, Janus. It looks two ways: north to Scotland and south to England. In the 17th century, after it had been under English control for 150 years, the townsfolk lived under English laws, but dressed in Scottish fashions. They were more likely to speak Scots than English.
It was a fortress, with bastions looking out to sea, protecting the mouth of the River Tweed. Less than a mile inland, the ancient castle fell into disrepair after it was outside the newly constructed ramparts. The builders needed to save money and reduced the area protected.
William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, was captured by the English and hung, drawn and quartered (so he could not be put back together on Judgement Day). One of his arms was displayed in Berwick, while his head was on a spike on London Bridge.
Another Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce, was crowned king in the traditional manner by the Countess of Buchan. As a punishment, the Countess was hung in a cage in Berwick Castle for four years by the English.
Much of the stonework from the ruined castle was scavenged and used to build the Barracks in the 1720s. But the final indignity was the destruction of the castle’s Great Hall to enable the passage of the London to Edinburgh railway in 1847.
The River Tweed is protected by a breakwater. Our landlady told a story of a man who found a woman who had collapsed on the breakwater. He telephoned for an ambulance but was told it would take over an hour to arrive. Thinking laterally, he called the coastguard knowing that there was a paramedic in the lifeboat crew. The lifeboat crossed the mouth of the river and the paramedic attended to the sick women. Job done.
The soldiers billeted here worked 12 hour shifts. Eight men shared four beds in a room, so four would be resting while the other four would be guarding.
Edward VI started building a star-shaped citadel here, similar to the defences of Calais. When Calais fell to the French in 1558, the plans were changed, to a more modern Italian design. The ramparts are over 10 metres high, 7 metres of stone topped by 3 metres of earth.
The magazine kept all the gunpowder safe and dry to supply the cannons on the ramparts. It was designed with a special wooden floor without using metal nails to prevent sparks from iron-tipped boots setting off an explosion. It was built a few hundred metres south of the Barracks (just in case).
The Lions House is just behind the magazine. It commands expansive views over the ramparts. The painter, L S Lowry, (Matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs) was interested in buying the property as he spent a great deal of time in the town. However, a survey revealed that it was in poor condition and very damp, so he abandoned the purchase. It is now available to rent as a holiday home, as well as being dry and in good shape.
It is Grade 2 listed building described as “Ashlar, C18, with rusticated quoins, scrolled gables, 3 storeys, centre doorway with good fanlight, 4 sash windows on ground floor and 5 on each upper floor.”
Lowry painted views of the town during his visits. These contrast with his typical grim factory scenes of industrial Lancashire between the World Wars. There is a Lowry Trail through Berwick, showing 18 panels of his works where they were painted. It takes about three hours to complete the trail, crossing over the Tweed to Spittal.
- For readers who may be unfamiliar with allotments – these are small parcels of land which are mainly used to cultivate vegetables by people who don’t have a house garden. In the early 1800s, the Enclosure Acts deprived poor people from using common land. Parliament introduced legislation mandating local authorities to provide land for allotment gardens at an affordably low rent. The average plot size is 10 square rods (an ancient measure no longer in use), about a sixteenth of an acre (5m x 5m), with no plot exceeding 40 square rods, a quarter of an acre. The land must be used to produce flowers, fruit or vegetables for the plot holder’s family, not for resale. If you don’t cultivate it, the local authority has the power to offer the plot to someone else – and there is always a waiting list.