Berwick-upon-Tweed (/ˌbɛrɪk-/ (listen); Scots: Sooth Berwick, Scottish Gaelic: Bearaig a Deas) is a town in the county of Northumberland. It is the northernmost town in England,[1] at the mouth of the River Tweed on the east coast, 2 12 miles (4 km) south of the Scottish border (the hamlet of Marshall Meadows is the actual northernmost settlement). Berwick is approximately 56 miles (90 km) east-south east of Edinburgh, 65 miles (105 km) north of Newcastle upon Tyne and 345 miles (555 km) north of London.


View over Berwick-upon-Tweed town centre
Location within Northumberland
Population12,043 (2011 Census)
OS grid referenceNT995525
 London345 miles (555 km)
Civil parish
  • Berwick-upon-Tweed
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townBerwick-upon-Tweed
Postcode districtTD15
Dialling code01289
AmbulanceNorth East
EU ParliamentNorth East England
UK Parliament
WebsiteBerwick-upon-Tweed Town Council

The United Kingdom census, 2011 recorded Berwick's population as 12,043.[2] A civil parish and town council were created in 2008 comprising the communities of Berwick, Spittal and Tweedmouth.[3]

Berwick was founded as an Anglo-Saxon settlement during the time of the Kingdom of Northumbria, which was annexed by England in the 10th century.[4] The area was for more than 400 years central to historic border wars between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and several times possession of Berwick changed hands between the two kingdoms. The last time it changed hands was when Richard of Gloucester retook it for England in 1482.[5] To this day many Berwickers feel a close affinity to Scotland.[6]

Berwick remains a traditional market town and also has some notable architectural features, in particular its medieval town walls, its Georgian Town Hall, its Elizabethan ramparts, and Britain's earliest barracks buildings, which Nicholas Hawksmoor built (1717–21) for the Board of Ordnance.[7]


The name "Berwick" is of Old English origin, and is derived from the term bere-wīc,[8] combining bere, meaning "barley", and wīc, referring to a farm or settlement. "Berwick" thus means "barley village" or "barley farm".[9][10]

Alternative etymologies, including ones connecting the name with the Anglo-Saxon kingdom Bernicia, and the Brythonic element aber, meaning 'estuary, confluence', have also been suggested.[11]


Early history

In the post-Roman period, the area was inhabited by the Brythons of Bryneich. Later, the region became part of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia. Bernicia later united with the kingdom of Deira to form Northumbria, which in the mid-10th century entered the Kingdom of England under Eadred.[12][13] Berwick remained part of the Earldom of Northumbria until control passed to the Scots following the Battle of Carham of 1018. The town itself was founded as an Anglo-Saxon settlement during the time of the Kingdom of Northumbria.[4]

Scottish burgh

Between the late 10th and early 11th centuries, the land between the rivers Forth and Tweed came under Scottish control, either through conquest by Scotland or through cession by England.[14] Berwick was made a royal burgh in the reign of David I.[15] A mint was present in the town by 1153.[16] In 1276 William de Baddeby was Constable of Berwick.[17] It is unclear if this relates to the walled town itself, or the castle.

While under Scottish control, Berwick was referred to as "South Berwick" in order to differentiate it from the town of North Berwick, East Lothian, near Edinburgh.[18]

Berwick had a mediaeval hospital for the sick and poor which was administered by the Church. A charter under the Great Seal of Scotland, confirmed by King James I of Scotland, grants the king's chaplain "Thomas Lauder of the House of God or Hospital lying in the burgh of Berwick-upon-Tweed, to be held to him for the whole time of his life with all lands, teinds, rents and profits, etc., belonging to the said hospital, as freely as is granted to any other hospital in the Kingdom of Scotland; the king also commands all those concerned to pay to the grantee all things necessary for the support of the hospital. Dated at Edinburgh June 8, in the 20th year of his reign."

Disputed territory

Berwick's strategic position on the Anglo-Scottish border during centuries of war between the two nations and its relatively great wealth led to a succession of raids, sieges and takeovers. William I of Scotland invaded and attempted to capture northern England in 1173–74.[19] After his defeat, Berwick was ceded to Henry II of England.[20] It was later sold back to William by Richard I of England in order to raise funds for his Crusade.[21] Berwick had become a prosperous town by the middle of the 13th century. According to William Edington, a bishop and chancellor of England, Berwick was "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".[22] In 1291–92 Berwick was the site of Edward I of England's arbitration in the contest for the Scottish crown between John Balliol and Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale.[23] The decision in favour of Balliol was pronounced in the Great Hall of Berwick Castle on 17 November 1292.[23]

In 1296 England went to war with France, with which Scotland was in alliance. Balliol invaded England in response, sacking Cumberland.[24] Edward in turn invaded Scotland and captured Berwick, destroying much of the town and massacring some 20,000 of the inhabitants. Edward I went again to Berwick in August 1296 to receive formal homage from some 2,000 Scottish nobles, after defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April and forcing John Balliol to abdicate at Kincardine Castle the following July. It was at this time that work began on building the town walls (and rebuilding the earlier Castle); these fortifications were complete by 1318 and subsequently improved under Scottish rule. An arm of William Wallace was displayed at Berwick after his execution and quartering on 23 August 1305. In 1314 Edward II of England mustered 25,000 men at Berwick, who later fought in (and lost) the Battle of Bannockburn.

Between 1315 and 1318 Scottish armies, sometimes with the help of Flemish and German privateers, besieged and blockaded the town, finally invading and capturing it in April 1318.[25] England retook Berwick the day after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.[26] In October 1357 a treaty was signed at Berwick by which the Scottish estates undertook to pay 100,000 marks as a ransom for David II of Scotland,[27] who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346.

In 1461 Berwick was ceded back to Scotland by Margaret of Anjou on behalf of her husband, Henry VI, in return for help against the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses.[28] Robert Lauder of Edrington was put in charge of the castle. He was succeeded in 1474 by David, Earl of Crawford. On 3 February 1478, Robert Lauder of the Bass and Edrington was again appointed Keeper of the castle, a position that he held until the final year of Scottish occupation, when Patrick Hepburn, 1st Lord Hailes, had possession.

In 1482 Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) recaptured the town.[29] Thomas Gower (fl.1543  1577) was the English marshal of Berwick 1543-1552. The Scots did not accept this conquest as is evidenced by innumerable charters for at least two centuries after this date.[17] Over the course of a little more than 400 years, Berwick had changed hands more than a dozen times.[30]

English town

In 1551 the town was made a self-governing county corporate. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, vast sums – one source reports "£128,648, the most expensive undertaking of the Elizabethan period"[31] – were spent on its fortifications, in a new Italian style (trace italienne), designed both to withstand artillery and to facilitate its use from within the fortifications. These fortifications have been described as "the only surviving walls of their kind".[13] Sir Richard Lee designed some of the Elizabethan works.[32]

Berwick’s role as a border fortress town ended with the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland. On 6 April 1603, James VI of Scotland crossed the Border on his journey southwards to be crowned James I of England. He was met at Lamberton by the Lord Governor of Berwick with a mounted party from the garrison and was conducted into the town. In December 1603, the Crown ordered the dissolution of the garrison of Berwick and the number of soldiers was reduced to 100 men and pensioners.[33]

In 1639 the army of Charles I faced that of General Alexander Leslie at Berwick in the Bishops' Wars, which were concerned with bringing the Presbyterian Church of Scotland under Charles's control. The two sides did not fight, but negotiated a settlement, the "Pacification of Berwick".[34]

Berwick Bridge, also known as the "Old Bridge" dates to 1611. It linked Islandshire on the south bank of the River Tweed with the county burgh of Berwick on the north bank.[35] Holy Trinity Church was built in 1648–52.[36] It is the most northerly parish church in England and was built under special licence from Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth period.[37]

The population of the parliamentary borough in 1841 was 12,578, and that of the parish was 8,484.[38]

British town

In 1707, the Act of Union between England and Scotland largely ended the contention about which of the countries Berwick belonged to. Since then, Berwick remained within the laws and legal system of England and Wales. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 (since repealed) deemed that whenever legislation referred to England it applied to Berwick. In the 1840s, Samuel Lewis included similar entries for Berwick-upon-Tweed in both his England and Scotland Topographical Dictionary.[39] Berwick remained a county in its own right, and was not included in Northumberland for Parliamentary purposes until 1885. In the same year, the Redistribution of Seats Act reduced the number of Members of Parliament (MPs) returned by the town from two to one.

England now is officially defined as "subject to any alteration of boundaries under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of that Act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly.",[40] which thus includes Berwick. In the 1972 act's reorganisation of English local government from 1 April 1974, the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was created by the merger of the previous borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed with Belford Rural District, Glendale Rural District and Norham and Islandshires Rural District.

The Interpretation Act 1978 provides that in legislation passed between 1967 and 1974, "a reference to England includes Berwick upon Tweed and Monmouthshire".

In 2009 the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was abolished as part of wider structural changes to local government in England. All functions previously exercised by Berwick Borough Council were transferred to Northumberland County Council, which is the unitary authority for the area.


Berwick-upon-Tweed has a typical British marine climate with narrow temperature differences between seasons. Because of its far northern position in England coupled with considerable North Sea influence, the area has very cool summers for an English location, with a subdued July (1981–2010) high of 17.9 °C (64.2 °F). January in turn has a high of 6.8 °C (44.2 °F) with a low of 1.7 °C (35.1 °F) with occasional frosts averaging 38.1 times per annum. Precipitation is relatively low by British standards, with 589.2 millimetres (23.20 in) on average. Sunshine is still limited to 1508.5 hours per annum. All data are sourced from the Berwick-upon-Tweed station operated by the Met Office.[41]

Climate data for Berwick-upon-Tweed 22m asl, 1981–2010
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6.8
Average low °C (°F) 1.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 45.0
Mean monthly sunshine hours 59.8 91.8 113.8 159.3 196.3 174.8 182.5 167.3 135.2 103.7 72.9 51.2 1,508.5
Source: Met Office[41]


During periods of Scottish administration Berwick was the county town of Berwickshire, to which the town gave its name. Thus at various points in the Middle Ages and from 1482 (when Berwick became administered by England) Berwickshire had the unique distinction of being the only county in the British Isles to be named after a town in another country.[42]

The town of Berwick was a county corporate for most purposes from 1482, up until 1885, when it was fully incorporated into Northumberland. Between 1885, and 1974, Berwick (north of the Tweed) was a borough council in its own right, and then on 1 April 1974 it was merged with Belford Rural District, Glendale Rural District and Norham and Islandshires Rural District.

During these periods, Berwick Borough Council and Berwickshire County Council (or District Council) existed, both named after the same town, but covering entirely different areas.

The Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was abolished on 1 April 2009.[43] From that date, Northumberland County Council assumed its functions, and those of the other districts in its area, to become a unitary authority.

A new Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council, a town council, has been created covering Berwick-upon-Tweed, Tweedmouth and Spittal. It has taken over the former Borough's mayoralty and regalia. The current Mayor, First Citizen and Council Chairman is: His Worship the Mayor of Berwick-upon-Tweed Cllr. Gregah Roughead FRSA.[44]

Berwick-upon-Tweed is in the parliamentary constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed.


Slightly more than 60% of the population is employed in the service sector, including shops, hotels and catering, financial services and most government activity, including health care. About 13% is in manufacturing, 10% in agriculture, and 8% in construction. Some current and recent Berwick economic activities include salmon fishing, shipbuilding, engineering, sawmilling, fertilizer production, malting and the manufacture of tweed and hosiery.

Berwick town centre comprises the Mary Gate and High Street where many local shops and some retail chains exist. There is a B&M which replaced the Co-Operative. A new office development has been built in the Walker Gate beside the library which combined spaced with the Northumberland Adult Learning Centre and Tourism centre.[45]

There is a retail park in Tweedmouth consisting of a Home Base, Farm Foods, Marks and Spencer, Argos, Next, Carpet Right, Curry's PC World, Halfords, and the newly opened Pound Land. Berwick Borough Council refused a proposal from Asda in 2006 to build a store near the site,[46] but in 2008 gave Tesco planning permission for its new store in the town,[47] which opened on 13 September 2010. Asda went on to take over the Co-op shop unit in Tweedmouth early 2010. A Morrisons supermarket with a petrol station, alongside a branch of McDonald's, a Travelodge UK and an Aldi all exist on Loaning Meadows close to the outskirts of the town near the current A1.


The old A1 road passes through Berwick. The modern A1 goes around the town to the west. The town is on the East Coast Main Line railway, and is served by Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station. A small seaport at Tweedmouth facilitates the import and export of goods, but provides no passenger services. The port is protected by a long breakwater built in the 19th century, at the end of which is a red and white lighthouse. Completed in 1826, the 13 metres (43 ft) tower emits a white light every five seconds from a window overlooking the sea.[48] Seafarers' charity, Apostleship of the Sea has a chaplain to support the needs of mariners arriving at the port.[49]


Berwick's identity

Berwick is famous for its hesitation over whether it is part of Scotland or England.[50] Some people are adamant they are English and their loyalty lies with Northumberland. Others feel an affinity to Scotland with its free prescriptions.[51] However its close proximity to the Border means that the people of Berwick often have mixed Anglo-Scottish families and claim to be neither English nor Scottish, but simply "Berwickers".[52] Historian Derek Sharman said "The people of Berwick feel really independent. You are a Berwicker first, Scottish or English second."[53] Former mayor Mike Elliot said "25% of the town consider themselves English, 25% Scottish and 50% Berwickers."[54] Professor Dominic Watt of the University of Aberdeen noted that: "Older people view themselves more as Scots than the younger people in Berwick, and this can be heard in their accents."[55]

In 2008 SNP Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) Christine Grahame made calls in the Scottish Parliament for Berwick to become part of Scotland again, saying, "Even the Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council leader backs the idea and others see the merits of reunification with Scotland."[56] The Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis, who was born and brought up in Berwick, also asked for the border to be moved twenty miles south (i.e., a significant distance south of the Tweed) to include Berwick borough council rather than just the town, stating: "There’s a strong feeling that Berwick should be in Scotland. Until recently, I had a gran in Berwick and another in Kelso, and they could see that there were better public services in Scotland."[57] However, Alan Beith, the former MP for Berwick, said the move would require a massive legal upheaval and is not realistic.[58] Beith's successor as MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: "Voters in Berwick-upon-Tweed do not believe it is whether they are in England or Scotland that is important."[53]

Berwick dialect

The local speech of Berwick-upon-Tweed shares many characteristics with both other rural Northumberland dialects and East Central Scots.[59][60] In 1892, linguist Richard Oliver Heslop divided the county of Northumberland into four dialect zones and placed the Berwick dialect in the "north-Northumbrian" region, an area extending from Berwick down to the River Coquet.[61] Likewise, Charles Jones (1997) classes the dialect as "predominantly North-Northumbrian" with "a few features shared with Scots".[62]

Features of this dialect include the "Northumbrian burr", a distinct pronunciation of the letter R historically common to many dialects of North East England; and predominant non-rhoticity: older speakers tend to be slightly rhotic, while younger speakers are universally non-rhotic.[63][64]

A sociological study of the Anglo-Scottish border region conducted in 2000 found that locals of Alnwick, 30 miles (48 km) south of Berwick, associated the Berwick accent with Scottish influence. Conversely, those from Eyemouth, Scotland, 9 miles (14 km) north of Berwick, firmly classed Berwick speech as English, identifying it as "Northumbrian or Geordie".[65]


Berwick Rangers Football Club were formed in the town in 1881.[66] Despite being located in England, the club plays in the Scottish football league system. The home stadium of Berwick Rangers is Shielfield Park and the club currently plays in the Lowland League, the fifth tier of the Scottish football league system.

The town also has a rugby union side, Berwick RFC who play in Scottish Rugby Union's East Regional League Division 1.

Speedway has taken place in Berwick in two separate eras. The sport was introduced to Shielfield Park in May 1968. A dispute between the speedway club and the stadium owners ended the first spell. The sport returned to Shielfield Park in the mid-1990s. The lack of a venue in the town saw the team move to a rural location called Berrington Lough. The team, known as the Bandits, have raced at all levels from First Division to Conference League (first to third levels).

Tweedmouth Rangers Football Club have played in the East of Scotland Football League since 2016. Prior to this, they were members of the North Northumberland League. Their home ground is Old Shielfield Park, which the club uses under an agreement with the Berwick Rangers supporters club.

Berwick Rangers and Berwick RFC are unique in being English teams that play in Scottish leagues.[67]

Relations with Russia

There is an apocryphal story that Berwick is (or recently has been) officially at war with Russia.[68] According to a story by George Hawthorne in The Guardian of 28 December 1966, the London correspondent of Pravda visited the Mayor of Berwick, Councillor Robert Knox, and the two made a mutual declaration of peace. Knox said "Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds." The same story, cited to the Associated Press, appeared in The Baltimore Sun of 17 December 1966; The Washington Post of 18 December 1966; and The Christian Science Monitor of 22 December 1966. At some point in turn the real events seem to have been turned into a story of a "Soviet official" having signed a "peace treaty" with Mayor Knox; Knox's remark to the Pravda correspondent was preserved in this version.[68][69]

The basis for such status was the claim that Berwick had changed hands several times, was traditionally regarded as a special, separate entity, and some proclamations referred to "England, Scotland and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed". One such was the declaration of the Crimean War against Russia in 1853, which Queen Victoria supposedly signed as "Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions". When the Treaty of Paris was signed to conclude the war, "Berwick-upon-Tweed" was left out. This meant that, supposedly, one of Britain's smallest towns was officially at war with one of the world's largest powers – and the conflict extended by the lack of a peace treaty for over a century.[69]

The BBC programme Nationwide investigated this story in the 1970s, and found that while Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris, it was not mentioned in the declaration of war either. The question remained as to whether Berwick had ever been at war with Russia in the first place. The true situation is that since the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 had already made it clear that all references to England included Berwick, the town had no special status at either the start or end of the war. The grain of truth in this legend could be that some important documents from the 17th century did mention Berwick separately, but this became unnecessary after 1746.


As with the rest of Northumberland, schools in Berwick use the three-tier system. Pupils may also commute across the Scottish border to Eyemouth or Berwickshire to attend secondary school.

First schools

  • Berwick St Mary C of E
  • Holy Island C of E
  • Holy Trinity C of E
  • Hugh Joicey C of E
  • Lowick
  • Norham St Celwulfs C of E
  • Scremerston
  • Spittal Community School
  • St Cuthbert's RC
  • Tweedmouth Prior Park
  • Tweedmouth West

Middle schools

  • Berwick Middle School
  • Tweedmouth Community

High Schools

Independent schools

Special schools

  • The Grove School

Twin towns

Berwick, Pennsylvania, United States
Casey, Victoria, Australia
Haan, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
Sarpsborg, Østfold, Norway
Trzcianka, Wielkopolskie, Poland


  • Berwick Castle was built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 1290s. It was in disrepair by the 17th century and much of it was demolished in the 19th century to make way for the railway. However, substantial ruins remain, just outside the town's rampart walls to the west by the river.
  • Berwick town walls and Tudor ramparts – some of the finest remaining examples of their type in the country.
  • The Old Bridge, 15-span sandstone arch bridge 1,164 feet (355 m) long, built in 1610–24 for £15,000. The bridge continues to carry road traffic, but in one direction only. The bridge, part of the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh was built by order of James VI and I.
  • Holy Trinity Parish Church, unusual for having been built during the Commonwealth of England. It was built in 1648–52 with stone from the 13th-century castle. It was originally a plain "preaching box", with no steeple, stained glass or other decorations. Contents include a pulpit thought to have been built for John Knox during his stay in the town. The church was much altered in 1855 with many new windows and the addition of a chancel.
  • Berwick Barracks, built 1717–21, the design attributed to Nicholas Hawksmoor.
  • The Town Hall, designed by S&J Worrell and built in 1754–60. The building is neoclassical and originally the town's prison was on the top floor. The tower above the council chamber has a ring of eight bells and a curfew bell. Lester and Pack of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the tenor, third, fourth and treble bells in 1754 and the fifth and sixth bells in 1759. Charles Carr of Smethwick cast the second and curfew bells in 1894. Mears and Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the seventh bell in 1901.[70]
  • Dewars Lane Granary, built in 1769, now restored as a hotel and art gallery.[71]
  • Marshall Meadows Country House Hotel, built in 1780 as a country house, is north of the town. It is the most northern hotel in England, just 275 metres from the Scottish border at Marshall Meadows Bay.
  • Union Bridge, 5 miles (8 km) upstream, from Berwick, was built in 1821 and is the World's oldest surviving suspension bridge.
  • The Kings Arms Hotel on Hide Hill was built in 1782 and rebuilt in 1845. Charles Dickens stayed there in 1861.[72]
  • The Royal Border Bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson and built in 1847–50 at a cost of £253,000, is a 720-yard-long railway viaduct with 28 arches, carrying the East Coast Main Line 126 feet above the River Tweed. It was opened by Queen Victoria.
  • St Andrew's Church, Wallace Green was built in 1859 and is one of only eight Church of Scotland congregations in England.
  • The Masonic Hall was built in 1872 for the town's St David's Masonic Lodge for £1,800. The lodge still owns the hall, and is also used by other Masonic lodges and orders. It is one of very few purpose-built Masonic halls in the country and is a very rare example of Victorian Masonic architecture. It has a large pipe organ built in 1895. The Hall contains many artefacts and documents concerning Freemasonry in the town which can be traced back to 1643.
  • The Royal Tweed Bridge, built in 1925 to carry the A1 road across the Tweed. Its span is 361 feet (110 m), which at the time was the longest concrete span. The A1 now bypasses the town to the west. In the early 2000s the bridge was renovated, the road and pavement layout revised and new street lighting added.
  • Dewars Lane runs down Back Street just off Bridge Street. Like other Berwick locations it was painted by L. S. Lowry, who visited Berwick often, especially in the 1930s, when he stayed at the Castle Hotel.

Notable people

See also Berwick Castle for Governors of the castle and Berwick-upon-Tweed (UK Parliament constituency) for a list of former MPs.

See also



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  4. Lepage, Jean-Denis (2011). British Fortifications Through the Reign of Richard III. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-7864-5918-6.
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