1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Berwick-upon-Tweed

BERWICK-UPON-TWEED, a market town, seaport, municipal borough and county in itself, of England, at the mouth of the Tweed on the north bank, 339 m. N. by W. from London. Pop. (1901) 13,437. For parliamentary purposes it is in the Berwick-upon-Tweed division of Northumberland. It is the junction on the East Coast route from London to Scotland between the North Eastern and North British railways, a branch of the company first named running up the Tweed valley by Coldstream and Kelso. The town lies in a bare district on the slope and flat summit of an abrupt elevation, higher ground rising to the north and south across the river. It has the rare feature of a complete series of ramparts surrounding it. Those to the north and east are formed of earth faced with stone, with bastions at intervals and a ditch now dry. They are of Elizabethan date, but there are also lines of much earlier date, the fortifications of Edward I. Much of these last has been destroyed, and threatened encroachment upon the remaining relics so far aroused public feeling that in 1905 it was decided that the Board of Works should take over these ruins, including the Bell Tower, from the town council, and enclose them as national relics. The Bell Tower, from which alarms were given when border raiders were observed, is in fair preservation. There are slight remains of the castle, which fell into disrepair after the union of the crowns of England and Scotland. There are no traces of the churches, monasteries or other principal buildings of the ancient town. The church of Holy Trinity is a plain building without steeple, of the time of Cromwell. Of modern places of worship, the most noteworthy is Wallace Green United Presbyterian church (1859). The chief public building is the town hall (1760), a stately classic building surmounted by a lofty spire. Educational institutions include an Elizabethan grammar school and a blue-coat school; and there is a local museum. Two bridges connect the town with the south side of the Tweed. The older, which is very substantial, was finished in 1634, having taken twenty-four years in building. It has fifteen arches, and is 924 ft. long, but only 17 ft. wide. A unique provision for its upkeep out of Imperial funds dates from the reign of Charles II. The other, the Royal Border Bridge, situated a quarter of a mile up the river, is a magnificent railway viaduct, 126 ft. high, with twenty-eight arches, which extends from the railway station, a castellated building on part of the site of the old castle, to a considerable distance beyond the river. This bridge was designed by Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria in 1850.

The reach of the river from the old bridge to the mouth forms the harbour. The entrance to the harbour is protected by a stone pier, which stretches half a mile south-east from the north bank of the river mouth. The depth of water at the bar is 17 ft. at ordinary tides, 22 ft. at spring tides, but the channel is narrow, a large rocky portion of the harbour on the north side being dry at low water. There is a wet dock of 31/2 acres. Principal exports are grain, coal and fish; imports are bones and bone-ash, manure stuffs, linseed, salt, timber and iron. The herring and other sea fisheries are of some value, and the salmon fishery, in the hands of a company, has long been famous. A fair is held annually at the end of May. There are iron-works and boat-building yards.

The custom of specially mentioning Berwick-upon-Tweed after Wales, though abandoned in acts of parliament, is retained in certain proclamations. The title of “county in itself” also helps to recall its ancient history. The liberties of the borough, commonly called Berwick Bounds, include the towns of Spittal, at the mouth, and Tweedmouth immediately above it, on the south bank of the river. The first is a watering-place (pop. 2074), with pleasant sands and a chalybeate spa; the second (pop. 3086) has iron foundries, engineering works and fish-curing establishments. Berwick-upon-Tweed is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 6396 acres.

Very little is known of the history of Berwick before the Conquest. It was not until the Tweed became the boundary between England and Scotland in the 12th century that Berwick as the chief town on that boundary became really important. Until the beginning of the 14th century Berwick was one of the four royal boroughs of Scotland, and although it possesses no charter granted before that time, an inquisition taken in Edward III.’s reign shows that it was governed by a mayor and bailiffs in the reign of Alexander III., who granted the town to the said mayor and the commonalty for an annual rent. After Edward I. had conquered Berwick in 1302 he gave the burgesses another charter, no longer existing but quoted in several confirmations, by which the town was made a free borough with a gild merchant. The burgesses were given the right to elect annually their mayor, who with the commonalty should elect four bailiffs. They were also to have freedom from toll, pontage, &c., two markets every week on Monday and Friday, and a fair lasting from the feast of Holyrood to that of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Five years later, in 1307, the mayor and burgesses received another charter, granting them their town with all things that belonged to it in the time of Alexander III., for a fee-farm rent of 500 marks, which was granted back to them in 1313 to help towards enclosing their town with a wall. While the war with Scotland dragged on through the early years of the reign of Edward II., the fortification of Berwick was a matter of importance, and in 1317 the mayor and bailiffs undertook to defend it for the yearly sum of 6000 marks; but in the following year, “owing to their default,” the Scots entered and occupied it in spite of a truce between the two kingdoms. After Edward III. had recovered Berwick the inhabitants petitioned for the recovery of their prison called the Beffroi or Bell-tower, the symbol of their independence, which their predecessors had built before the time of Alexander III., and which had been granted to William de Keythorpe when Edward I. took the town. Edward III. in 1326 and 1356 confirmed the charter of Edward I., and in 1357, evidently to encourage the growth of the borough, granted that all who were willing to reside there and desirous of becoming burgesses should be admitted as such on payment of a fine. These early charters were confirmed by most of the succeeding kings, until James I. granted the incorporation charter in 1604; but on his accession to the English throne, Berwick of course lost its importance as a frontier town. Berwick was at first represented in the court of the four boroughs and in 1326 in Robert Bruce’s parliament. After being taken by the English it remained unrepresented until it was re-taken by the Scots, when it sent two members to the parliament at Edinburgh from 1476 to 1479. In 1482 the burgesses were allowed to send two members to the English parliament, and were represented there until 1885, when the town was included in the Berwick-upon-Tweed division of the county of Northumberland. No manufactures are mentioned as having been carried on in Berwick, but its trade, chiefly in the produce of the surrounding country, was important in the 12th century. It has been noted for salmon fishery in the Tweed from very early times. There was a bridge over the Tweed at Berwick in the time of Alexander and John, kings of Scotland, but it was broken down in the time of the latter and not rebuilt until the end of the 14th century.

See Victoria County History, Northumberland; John Fuller, History of Berwick-upon-Tweed, &c. (1799); John Scott, Berwick-upon-Tweed: History of the Town and Guild (1888).