Last batch of photographs from the photogenic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
You must all be feeling rather bored with Berwick’s doors, so I will add a few humorous portals for your delectation.
Being an important port, Berwick has its own Custom House.
I confess my ignorance about the painter who lived at this spot. Normally there is a blue plaque. But in keeping with the pastel colour scheme, this plaque is puce.
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.
Behind the southern fortress walls of Berwick, there are some elegant houses, along Wellington Terrace and the Quay Walls. White doors with black knockers, handles and letterboxes look very smart. I like the dressed stone blocks, the porticos and the black iron railings.
A few more interesting doors from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
More wonderful doors from the streets of this historic town. This is the Town Hall, built on the site of the Tollbooth. There have been several versions of the Tollbooth, one of which was burned down by marauding Scots, but most just deteriorated with time. In 1749, the Tollbooth collapsed, leaving the bell tower unstable. Joseph Dods, a local builder, demolished the old building and sent the bells to London to be recast. He submitted a design for the new building, but as he had no experience of such a grand project, the guild sent his plans to the Worralls, architects in London who designed St Martin’s in the Fields, the church on Trafalgar Square (before it was Trafalgar Square). Dods successfully submitted new plans, very similar to the Worralls’ design, in 1750. His name is inscribed in stone above the door, and the mayor’s name Joseph Fleming Maguire, is in black on white lettering across the portico supported by fourTuscan columns.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is the most northerly town in England. It is closer to Edinburgh in Scotland than it is to Newcastle. As a border town, it changed hands more than half a dozen times from 1000 – 1482, ending up as part of England. Queen Elizabeth the First spent a fortune building fortifications around the town to deter invaders. I highly recommend a walking trip around the town walls and battlements.
I stayed in a guest house on the Parade Ground outside the Army Barracks (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren). Many of the town houses are Georgian, almost 300 years old. And they have beautiful doors.
Rothbury is a lovely town in Northumberland, just south of the Cheviot Hills. Just outside the town is Cragside, a mansion built by the Armstrong family. It was the first home to be lit by electricity. Unfortunately, covid restrictions meant that you can only visit the house by booking tickets in advance (which we were not able to do). So here are a few examples of doors in the town.
John Woolman was a famous Quaker in the 18th Century. He lived in New Jersey and was a strong abolitionist. In 1772 Woolman sailed to Britain to speak out against slavery. Instead of taking a passenger’s cabin, he showed his egalitarian spirit by lodging with the crew. When he arrived in London, the Quakers were rather taken aback by his shabby clothing, but when he spoke condemning the injustice of slavery, he was accepted.
To spread the word, he set off to travel north to York but declined to travel by stagecoach because he felt it was cruel to drive the horses so hard. Instead, he walked, preaching against slavery en route. Sadly, he picked up smallpox along the way and died just after reaching York. He is commemorated by the establishment of John Woolman House. This is a Quaker residential home for older people, close to New Walk. The doors facing New Walk are painted in bright colours.