History

Berwick has a unique history and much of it was centred around the area now occupied by the parks.

Berwick Castle

Today one of the most interesting features associated with the park is Berwick Castle.  Until the building of the railway in the 1840s, the ravine that forms Castle Vale extended northward under what is now the railway station car park.  Thus Berwick Castle stood isolated upon a hill, connected to the town by a causeway or bridge between Percy Tower and the main entrance, the Donjon, and a connecting wall at the north east Gunners Tower to St Mary’s Gate, the entrance to Berwick from the Borders.  The first reliable record of the castle is in 1165, when we are told of a prisoner held within what sound like a fairly substantial structure so it was probably built about 1100 although an earlier fort may well have existed.  

 

In the 1140s, King David of Scotland conferred the status of royal burgh upon Berwick and set up a mint which must have been within the castle.  David stayed in Berwick many times and issued charters all of which suggests a building literally fit for a king.

 

In 1290, the Scottish king Alexander III died and his only heir, the seven year old Margaret, the Maid of Norway, died on the journey to Scotland at Orkney.  Thus began the first Scottish interregnum.  Edward I was invited to arbitrate between the claims of thirteen noblemen who believed they had a claim to the throne.  (Edward I put in an application as well so that others would note his claim, but recognised it wasn’t legally very strong!) The only serious contenders were John Baliol and Robert Bruce.  The Great Cause was decided in November 1292 in favour of Baliol.  This took place in the Great Hall of Berwick Castle (which was not on the site of the platform as proclaimed by the large sign over the steps to the platform but against the west wall).

 

Balliol had to pay homage to Edward and the final straw came when the Scots were ordered to raise an army against the French.  This they refused to do, instead forming an alliance with the French and unsuccessfully attacking Carlisle.  In retaliation, Edward invaded Berwick with extreme ferocity April 1296.  Berwick had exchanged nationality twice before, but this now set the trend for the next two hundred years.

 

Within a month of Edward’s invasion, he started building a set of walls around the town and it seems highly likely that he made substantial modifications to the castle as well; this was after all a mere 15 years or so after his major programme of castle building in Wales.  It is known that he constructed the White Wall or Break-y-Neck Steps from the south west corner to the river.  This followed his practice in Wales ensuring a connection to the outside world by water.  Evidence from the twin-towered entrance Donjon and the Constable Tower, the main piece of remaining castle architecture in the Vale, suggest a post-Norman design of castle.

 

The causeway was on the same line as the present entrance road.  The Percy Tower was set in the Edwardian town walls contained a barbican and drawbridge.  A further two drawbridges existed in the middle and then a fourth at the entrance in the Donjon.  Part of the south tower of this entrance still exists where the road turns towards Castle Vale House.

 

Constable Tower, occupying the south east corner of the castle, retains a well preserved spiral staircase, fishtail arrowloops and a garderobe.  It is now on privately owned land at Castle Vale House, or Castle Vale Cottage, as it was originally called when built shortly after the building of the railway.  The impressive wall by the House is often thought to be part of the castle is a later building phase to the tower and is not seen on pictures created shortly before the coming of the railway.  It is likely to have been rebuilt when the railway station was built, reusing castle stone.  

 

Unlike most castles, Berwick never had the dual purpose of defensive structure and family seat.  Instead, it was purely an administrative centre held by the king’s man.  It was occupied by a garrison that seems to have varied in number between two and five hundred depending on the state of alert.

 

One rather nice piece of carved stone the capital from a pillar or fluting had been incorporated (upside-down) in the west retaining wall of the path around the Lily Ponds.  The Castle Parks Project has replaced this with a replica (the right way up!) The original is in Berwick Museum and Art Gallery. 

 

 

 

Countess of Buchan

A famous episode in the castle’s history stems from the interregnum and the later crowning of Robert Bruce (grandson of the Bruce who claimed the throne in the Great Cause) in March 1306.  The crowning of the Scottish monarch was traditionally performed by the head of the Clan McDuff at Scone.  However, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, who should have had this privelige, had sided with the English.  Instead, his wife Isobella, the Countess of Buchan (and more importantly, a McDuff) came to Scone to perform the ceremony.  She arrived a day after Bruce had been crowned. As some might feel that without the McDuff endorsement the ceremony would be invalid.

 

Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven in June 1306, so he sent Isabella and his female relatives north, but they were betrayed to the English by the Earl of Ross.  Edward I ordered her to be sent to Berwick supposedly with these instructions:

 

“Let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in life and after her death, she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers.”

 

What the records of the castle actually say is:

 

“...he should have made in one of the towers of the castle of that place, in the place which shall seem to him most suitable for this, a cage of strong wooden laths, barred and well reinforced with iron, in which he is to place the Countess of Buchan, and that he should have her so well and surely guarded in that cage that she can in no way leave it.  And that he have appointed one or two women of Berwick town, who are to be English and under no suspicion, to serve the Countess with food and drink and other things which they will carry to her in her dwelling, and that he have her so well and closely guarded in the cage that she speaks to no-one, neither man nor woman, who is of the Scottish nation and that no-one else is to approach her except only the woman or women who will be appointed to this, and those who have the custody of her.  And that the cage be so made that the Countess may have there the convenience of a privy, but that this be so well and surely arranged that there may be no risk to the keeping of the Countess...”

 

 

It was certainly true that she should have the humiliation of being seen in this cage by English visitors but she was held for four years before being released on condition to the Carmelite Friars whose house was in the Palace Green area.  She would not have survived anything like that long if suspended outside.  Like many stories today, there was more than an element of propaganda put about by both sides.

 

 

 

Edward II

Edward II hold sthe record for the monarch who resided at the castle longest, staying over Christmas in 1310.  He had been on a tour of castles he held in the south of Scotland and Edinburgh since September.  He arrived at Berwick in November and stayed for six months.  A possible reason for this sojourn was to deflect attention from his favourite, Piers Gaveston.  They wanted for nothing with musicians and all sorts of exotic foods laid on.

 

In 1314, Edward returned to Berwick mustering an army to march on Scotland and relieve the siege of Stirling Castle.  The ensuing loss at Bannockburn left Edward scurrying back to Berwick where he stayed a further three months before moving on to York.

 

Robert Bruce took the town at a third attempt in 1318.  After Edward’s death, one of many attempts to bring peace between the two nations through marriage took place in Berwick.  Edward’s seven year old daughter Joan was married to Robert Bruce’s four year old son David.  The affair was lavish and everyone flocked from far and wide to see the happy occasion - everyone that is except Bruce and Joan’s brother Edward III!

 

 

 

Milling

One of the key interpretation themes in the Castle Parks is the history of milling in the area.  On the west side of the railway line is Tommy the Miller’s field.  A mill had been at the top of this hill since the early 12th century; when still earl, King David I granted one seventh of the revenue from the Casle Mill to Kelso Abbey.  This was a water mill fed by water from the Tappe Pond.  The Tappee was a reservoir formed by a dam over which ran the road to the Borders up what is now Castle Terrace.  Presumabably the water flowed through a controlled conduit under the road.

 

This mill was destroyed during the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, but was replaced on a temporary basis by two windmills and two horse mills.  The new mills were in operation in 1335.  The Castle Mill, later referred to as the High Mill was rebuilt and another was built nearby.  A topographic map of Berwick c.1570 shows an overshot water mill across the road from the Tappee Pond.   Another from the 1560s again shows a watermill.

 

An engraving (from an original by JMW Turner) published 1833, shows a mill in this position.  Judging from a map of 1839 this would be on the site of the station platform.  

The stream that flowed from the Tappee Pond continued down the east of Castle Hill, now Castle Vale Park.  A third mill, the Low Mill, was built on its course.  Francis Cowe has stated his belief that it was in the Lily Pond area but an 18th century map shows that a Low Mill towards the bottom of the steps to the river.  It is safe to say it was on the west side of the steps to the river, just over halfway down.  In 1551 it was said that the stream could support another two mills.

 

As well as the two temporary windmills mentioned earlier, a survey of the castle in 1538 bemoans the lack of a windmill within the castle.  In case the town and all the mills and storehouses should fall into enemy hands thus cutting off the castle from its supplies and ability to produce flour:

 

“...it wer verray necessary and expedient that a myln, with a brewhouse, a garner [for storing corn] .... wer mayd and set upe within the said castell.”

 

After the castle was abandoned in the 17th century, a windmill was sited in the south east corner behind Constable Tower.  Its remains can be seen in the 1833 Turner engraving and, from a similar date, a french lithograph Chateau de Berwick.  It is often mistaken as being a castle tower but can be seen with its sails in one image, dated 1799, by Charles Catton, jnr.

 

 

 

The Royal Border Bridge

The Royal Border Bridge formed the last link in the railway between Edinburgh and London.  It was opened by Queen Victoria in 1850.  The basic outline was Stephenson’s but the detail was worked out by one of Stephenson’s engineers, Thomas Harrison and the on site engineer beneath him, George Bruce.  

 

Some 2000 navvies worked for three years on the project.  It is about 38m high and 659m long and consists of 28 arches.  It was a focus in 2009 for the Stephenson 150 Festival and in 2010 the arches had computer programmed lighting installed.

 

 

 

Castlegate

Castlegate was until 1983 part of the Great North Road, and countless numbers of people passed along it on their way to or from the crossing of the Tweed at Berwick Bridge.  It used to be known as Burghgate and was the road to the Borders exiting the town through the walls at the St Mary Gate and passed through the mediaeval village of Bondington where now is Castle Terrace.  In the latter half of the 13th century Berwick was the most important town in Scotland, being the closest port to Europe. More money went to the Scottish exchequer from Berwick than any other town and amounted to that collected by all the others put together (save Aberdeen).  

 

Berwick’s great prosperity led to the Castlegate area being laid out in burgage plots.  The Edwardian Walls were built far to the north of the town to accommodate an envisaged expansion of the town which then occupied the Marygate / Bridge Street / Church Street areas.  This never happened.  16th century maps show that some houses existed but the street was not built on largely until the 1820s and many building date later to the 19th century.  The area is still known as The Greenses.  The road to Edinburgh exited the town via Wallace Green but this road was cut off when the Elizabethan walls were built, necessitating the construction of North Road to join Castlegate to the old road.

 

These new walls separated the Castlegate area from the important town centre, and the only way through was through the narrow New St Mary Gate, now Scotsgate.  This would have looked like Cow Gate.  Both had a drawbridge, set across the wet moat.  The gates were usually shut at an 8pm curfew until the Scotsgate as we know it today was modified the 1870s.

 

 

 

The New Road

The New Road was a job creation scheme in 1820 for unemployed soldiers after the Napoleonic Wars.  It passes through the postern gate in the Water Tower, added to the White Wall by Henry VIII in the early 1540s.  That there was a postern at that point since the wall was built in 1296 suggests there must have been some sort of path there, perhaps just from the bottom of Castle Vale leading upstream.  The barred doors are not prison cells, but gun chambers for cannon. Smoke vents can be seen by the gun ports above.  An upper open platform would have been above that.

 

The “Old Road” was a path that that ran from where a path today enters the park from Tweed Street and Megs Mount, following the line of the mediaeval walls along the top of Gillies Braes, or Sham’les [Shambles] Braes after a nearby abbatoir in Tweed Street.  Fragments of the walls remain for much of the length of the Braes.  This was possibly still used until the 1950s as an old Ministry of Works sign exists on a fence around a large, now forgotten fragment of the walls.  

 

The walls here may have been the last section built as in 1316, Robert Bruce attempted to take the town,

 

“...the King of Scotland came stealthily to Berwick, one bright moonlit night with a strong force, and delivered an assault by land and by sea in boats, intending to enter the town by stealth on the waterside between Brighouse and the castle, where the wall was not yet built...”

 

 

 

Berwick’s changing nationality

Berwick was originally Scottish.  Keeping it simple, Berwick changed hands 13 times.  However something (the castle or town, but not both) cahnged hands 17 times!  As you can see from the summary below it wasn't always by force.

 

1174 English

Is part of a ransom to free the Scottish king, William I as under the Treaty of Falaise (along with Stirling, Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Jedburgh castles).

 

1189 Scottish 

Richard I sells Berwick for ten thousand marks (£6,666)

 

1296 English

Edward I invades the town killing possibly 10,000 Scots.  

 

1297 Scottish

Town falls to William Wallace.  Castle retained by English.

 

1298 English

Scots leave town anticipating English attack.

 

1318 Scottish

Scots take Berwick aided by Peter de Spalding who let the Scots over the walls at the Cow Gate for £800. 

 

1333 English

Siege of Berwick and Battle of Halidon Hill by Edward III.

 

1355 Scottish

Thomas Stewart, Earl of Angus takes the town by scaling the walls at night.  As in 1297, the Scots failed to take the castle.

 

1356 English

Town retaken by Edward III.

 

1378 ?

Berwick castle taken by 44 Scots, declaring allegiance to the King of France!

 

1378 English

Eight days later they are put to the sword.

 

1384 Scottish

Scots bribe the Warden of the castle (the Deputy-Governor of Northumberland) to give up Berwick to them.

 

1384 English

Percy, Earl of Northumberland buys back Berwick for 2000 marks.

 

1405 Scottish

Percy hands Berwick to Scots in exchange for his assistance during the rebellion against Henry IV.

 

1405 English

Henry IV retakes the castle by siege.

 

1461 Scottish

Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife negotiates with James II’s widow, Mary of Gueldres, over the gift of Berwick for Scottish assistance against the Yorkists

 

1482 English

Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) besieges and takes town for the final time.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Artist's impression of the main entrance to Berwick Castle in the 14th century.  The area now occupied by the Lily Pond is in front of the bridge.

Berwick Castle 1793.  The wall descending from the castle is that which divides Coronation Park from Tommy the Miller's Field.

Railway poster by Doris Zinkeisen depicting the Countess of Buchan in her cage.

Victorian image of Edward II.

Artist's impression of Berwick Castle in the 14th century looking from the north-west.

Detail from engraving after JMW Turner,1833.

 

19th century engraving showing the Low Mill at the bottom of Castle Vale.

1930s railway poster showing the Royal Border Bridge.

Detail of 1822 map showing Castlegate and the Greenses.

1830s engraving showing the New Road.

Castle Vale and Coronation Parks were restored with support from Heritage Lottery Fund, Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council and Northumberland County Council

Castle Vale Park