Notice is hereby given that repair operations have commenced at Berwick Breakwater and will continue over the coming weeks. Divers may be working in the vicinity. Mariners are requested to navigate with caution, give as wide a berth as possible and keep speed to a minimum at all times.
D.Wood (Harbour Master) - 20th July 2011
On the mainland five miles north of Holy Island, is the mouth of the River Tweed and the most historic town of Berwick Upon Tweed. The most northerly town in England, perhaps no other town in North East England has had a more eventful history than Berwick. There is no doubt that Berwick upon Tweed can claim the distinction of being the Border Town, as it has changed hands between England and Scotland thirteen times. Its history is inextricably tied up with the struggle for the Anglo Scottish frontier. An old legend is said to explain the fascinating history of Berwick;
"During the temptation while the Evil one was showing to the Holy
one all the kingdoms of the earth he kept Berwick hidden beneath
his thumb, wishing to reserve it as his own little nook"
Berwick with an English name meaning `Corn Farm' began as a small settlement in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, in which it remained until the Battle of Carham of 1018 when it was taken by the Scots. From then on Berwick became a hotly disputed territory. In 1174 Berwick was retaken by England in a ransom following the failure of a raid into Northumberland by the Scottish king, William the Lion.
The town returned to the northern side of the border in the reign of Richard I (1189-1199), who sold it to obtain money for the Crusades. At the beginning of the following century Berwick returned once more to England, after Richard's brother, King John sacked the town, but Berwick continued to change hands until 1482 when the town finally became part of England within which it still remains.
Today the visitor to Berwick can be forgiven for believing it to be a Scottish town, as after all it stands on the northern bank of the River Tweed, an entirely Scottish river and it does seem to have a rather Scottish appearance. Berwick is also the name of a large Scottish Burgh and the old county of Berwickshire (of which Berwick was not part !) was in Scotland. Furthermore Berwick, is a little bit more closer to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, than to the North East's regional centre of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The belief that Berwick is Scottish is also reinforced by the fact that most of the commercial banks in the town are Scottish and that the local football team plays in the Scottish league. Dialect also leads to the belief that Berwick is Scottish as to most Englishmen the local `Tweedside' accent spoken in Berwick sounds Scottish, although most Scots would recognise the Northumbrian influence.
The Scottish claim for Berwick is certainly strong but the English influence upon the area is also very significant. Berwick as already stated began as an English or at least an Anglo-Saxon settlement, in the Kingdom of Northumbria and although for four hundred years it regularly changed hands between England and Scotland it has remained in the former part of the United Kingdom for the past five centuries. Berwick's policeman and laws are therefore English, and its most senior councillor is an English mayor not a provost as in the Scottish system of local government. Until recently Berwick town also has an important status, as the administrative centre for the Northumberland County District of Berwick upon Tweed, which included the Farne islands, Lindisfarne and the very Northumbrian villages of Wooler, Bamburgh and Belford.
It is hardly surprising that given Berwick's curious Anglo Scotish location, the local residents tend to regard themselves as independent `Tweedsiders' or `Berwickers' rather than English or Scottish. In fact until the Reform Act of 1885 Berwick did have a considerable degree of independence with the status of a `Free Burgh' meaning that it had to be mentioned seperately in Acts of Parliament.
Berwick's status was such that even the Crimean War had to be declared in the name of Great Britain, Ireland and Berwick Upon Tweed. Strangely after this war, when the peace treaty was signed Berwick's name was omitted and for many years the town was said to be technically still at war with the Russians.
It is hard to believe that a town with such a turbulent history as Berwick was once one of the most prosperous merchant towns in Britain and was worth to Scotland an annual customs value of £2,190, which was equivelant to about one quarter of the customs of the whole of England. In the thirteenth century the wealthy town was described as;"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"
In the fourteenth century Berwick became a real walled town when King Edward I fortified it against Scottish attack. His defensive walls supplemented the stronghold of Berwick Castle which stood on the site of the present railway station. Some of the town walls can still be seen today, dating mainly from the later Elizabetan period. They are among the finest of their kind in Europe.
Berwick is one of the most picturesque towns on the region's coast, mainly because of its attractive red roofed houses, pinkish grey Georgian buildings and the fine seventeenth century bridge, which spans the River Tweed.
Most notable of the town's buildings are the spired town hall of 1754 and the Berwick parish church, called Holy Trinity which is one of only a few built in England in Cromwellian times. For an historic parish church it is unusual, in that it has no steeple, tower or church bell. Instead a bell in the Town Hall is used to summon people to the church services at Holy Trinity. It is no wonder that many visitors to Berwick mistake the Town Hall for the parish church.
The River Tweed at Berwick is almost as well known as the Tyne at Newcastle for its bridges. There are three here namely; Old Bridge, the Royal Tweed Bridge, and the Royal Border Bridge.The Royal Tweed is the most recent, built in 1925 it carries the old A1 through the town, although the more modern road now bypasses the town to the west. The Royal Border Bridge is an impressive nineteenth century railway viaduct. Opened by Queen Victoria in 1850, it was built by Robert Stephenson, creating an important rail link between London and Edinburgh.
The `Old Bridge', also known as `Berwick Bridge' dates from 1611. It is a fine red sandstone structure with fourteen arches. Until the nineteenth century it was the main crossing point of the Tweed at Berwick, but did not as might be expected link Northumberland to Scotland. It in fact linked the Norhamshire district of the County Palatinate of Durham to the county burgh of Berwick upon Tweed. County boundaries are a little more logical today.