View over Berwick-upon-Tweed town centre
Berwick-upon-Tweed is located in Northumberland
Location within Northumberland
Population 12,043 (2011 Census)
OS grid reference NT995525
• London 304 mi (489 km)
Civil parish
  • Berwick-upon-Tweed
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Berwick-upon-Tweed
Postcode district TD15
Dialling code 01289
Police Northumbria
Fire Northumberland
Ambulance North East
UK Parliament
Website Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council
List of places
55°46′16″N 2°00′25″W / 55.771°N 2.007°W / 55.771; -2.007Coordinates: 55°46′16″N 2°00′25″W / 55.771°N 2.007°W / 55.771; -2.007

Berwick-upon-Tweed (/ˌbɛrɪk-/ (About this soundlisten)), sometimes known as Berwick-on-Tweed or simply Berwick, is a town and civil parish in Northumberland, England. Located 2+12 miles (4 kilometres) south of the Anglo-Scottish border, it is the northernmost town in England.[a][1] The 2011 United Kingdom census recorded Berwick's population as 12,043.[2]

The town is situated at the mouth of the River Tweed on the east coast, approximately 56 mi (90 km) east-south east of Edinburgh, 65 mi (105 km) north of Newcastle upon Tyne, and 345 mi (555 km) north of London. Uniquely for England, the town is located slightly further north than Denmark's capital Copenhagen and the southern tip of Sweden further east of the North Sea, which Berwick borders.

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.[3] A civil parish and town council were formed in 2008 comprising the communities of Berwick, Spittal and Tweedmouth.[4] It is the northernmost civil parish in England.

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] Both Berwick Rangers Football Club and Berwick Rugby Football Club play in Scottish leagues.

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 (1717–1721) for the Board of Ordnance.[7]


Berwick's name is of the same origin as the archaic word berewick,[8] denoting a portion of farmland which was detached from a manor and reserved for a lord's own use.[9] This comes from the Old English berewíc, meaning "corn farm" (more specifically, bere refers to barley).[10] There are a number of places in Britain with the same name;[8] one such is North Berwick in Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed has also been called "South Berwick" in Scottish sources.[11] The medieval seal of the town showed a bear and a wych tree as a pun on the name.[12]


Holiday poster for Berwick-upon-Tweed

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.[13][14]

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.[3]

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.[15] Berwick was made a royal burgh in the reign of David I.[16] A mint was present in the town by 1153.[17] In 1276, William de Baddeby was Constable of Berwick.[18] It is unclear if this relates to the walled town itself, or the castle.[citation needed]

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.[19]

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."[citation needed]

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.[20] After his defeat, Berwick was ceded to Henry II of England.[21] It was later sold back to William by Richard I of England in order to raise funds for his Crusade.[22]

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".[23]

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.[24] The decision in favour of Balliol was pronounced in the Great Hall of Berwick Castle on 17 November 1292.[24]

Part of the town walls

In 1296, England went to war with France, with which Scotland was in alliance. Balliol invaded England in response, sacking Cumberland.[25] Edward in turn invaded Scotland and captured Berwick, destroying much of the town and massacring the burgesses, merchants and artisans of the town.[26]

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 the crushing defeat at 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 capturing it in April 1318.[27]

England retook Berwick the day after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.[28] 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,[29] 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.[30]

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.[citation needed]

In 1482, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) recaptured the town.[31] 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.[18] Over the course of a little more than 400 years, Berwick had changed hands more than a dozen times.[32]

English town

Berwick-upon-Tweed fortress detail

In 1551, the town was made a self-governing county corporate.[dubious ] During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, vast sums – one source reports "£128,648, the most expensive undertaking of the Elizabethan period"[33] – 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".[14] Sir Richard Lee designed some of the Elizabethan works,[34] and the Italian military engineer Giovanni Portinari was also involved in the project.[35]

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.[36]

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".[37]

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.[38] Holy Trinity Church was built in 1648–52.[39] It is the most northerly parish church in England and was built under special licence from Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth period.[40]

The population of the parliamentary borough in 1841 was 12,578, and that of the parish was 8,484.[41]

British town

The Barracks (1717–1721)

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 without the need for a specific reference to the town.

In the 1840s, Samuel Lewis included similar entries for Berwick-upon-Tweed in both his England and Scotland Topographical Dictionary.[42][43] 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.

Berwick in 1972

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",[44] 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 Town Hall, built 1754–1760
Location of Berwick-upon-Tweed civil parish in Northumberland, governed by the Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council.

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.[45]

Coat of arms of the Berwick-Upon-Tweed Borough Council from 1958 until 1974.

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. In 1958, the borough's council applied for a coat of arms, but applied to the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the Scottish heraldic authority, for the grant "as suitable to a Burgh of Scotland", which was duly granted.[citation needed]

On 1 April 1974, the borough was merged with Belford Rural District, Glendale Rural District and Norham and Islandshires Rural District to form Berwick Borough Council.[46]

Northumberland County Council became the unitary authority for the area when the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed was abolished on 1 April 2009.[47]

A new Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council, a town council, was created on 3 March 2008 covering Berwick-upon-Tweed, Tweedmouth, and Spittal. It has taken over the former Borough's mayoralty and regalia. The current Mayor and Council Chairman is councillor Alan Bowlas.[citation needed]

Berwick-upon-Tweed is in the parliamentary constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed.[48]


High Street

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. 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. A new office development has been built in the Walker Gate beside the library which combined space with the Northumberland Adult Learning Centre and Tourism centre.[49]

There is a retail park in Tweedmouth consisting of a Homebase, Farm Foods, Marks and Spencer, Argos, Next, Carpetright, Currys PC World, Halfords (closed February 2021), and the newly opened Poundland. Berwick Borough Council refused a proposal from Asda in 2006 to build a store near the site,[50] but in 2008 gave Tesco planning permission for its new store in the town,[51] 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.


Berwick breakwater lighthouse

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-metre (43 ft) tower emits a white light every five seconds from a window overlooking the sea.[52] Seafarers' charity Apostleship of the Sea has a chaplain to support the needs of mariners arriving at the port.[53]


Berwick's identity

Berwick is famous for its hesitation over whether it is part of Scotland or England.[54] Some people are adamant they are English and their loyalty lies with Northumberland, while others feel an affinity with Scotland.[55] Whilst it has been argued that the town's geographic and historic place between the two has led to it developing a distinctive identity of its own,[56] many people in Berwick also have mixed Anglo-Scottish families which contributes to a sense of separate identity.[57] Historian Derek Sharman said "The people of Berwick feel really independent. You are a Berwicker first, Scottish or English second."[58] Former mayor Mike Elliot said "25% of the town consider themselves English, 25% Scottish and 50% Berwickers."[59] 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."[60]

In 2008, SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Christine Grahame made calls in the Scottish Parliament for Berwick to become part of Scotland again.[61] The Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis, who was born and brought up in Berwick, asked for the border to be moved twenty miles south, 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."[62] However, Alan Beith, the former MP for Berwick, said the move would require a massive legal upheaval and is not realistic.[63] 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."[58]

Berwick dialect

The local speech of Berwick-upon-Tweed shares many characteristics with both other rural Northumberland dialects and East Central Scots.[64][65] 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.[66] Likewise, Charles Jones (1997) classes the dialect as "predominantly North-Northumbrian" with "a few features shared with Scots".[67]

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.[68][69]

A sociological study of the Anglo-Scottish border region conducted in 2000 found that locals of Alnwick, 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of Berwick, associated the Berwick accent with Scottish influence. Conversely, those from Eyemouth, Scotland, 9 mi (14 km) north of Berwick, firmly classed Berwick speech as English, identifying it as "Northumbrian or Geordie".[70]


Berwick Rangers Football Club were formed in the town in 1881.[71] 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.[56] The town also has a rugby union side, Berwick RFC, who play in Scottish Rugby Union's East Regional League Division 1. Before 2016, the two teams were unique in being English teams that play in Scottish leagues.[72][73][74]

A newer team in the town Tweedmouth Rangers Football Club has played in the East of Scotland Football League since 2016. Prior to this, they were members of the North Northumberland League.[73][74] Their home ground is Old Shielfield Park, which the club uses under an agreement with the Berwick Rangers supporters club.

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).

Relations with Russia

There is an apocryphal story that Berwick is (or recently has been) officially at war with Russia.[75] 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 time 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.[75][76]

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.[76] In reality, Berwick-upon-Tweed was not mentioned in either the declaration of war or the final peace treaty, and was legally part of the United Kingdom for both.


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


The Royal Border Bridge seen through the span of the Royal Tweed Bridge in Berwick
  • 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 355 metres (1,164 ft) long, built in 1610–1624 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 1648–1652 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 1717–1721, the design attributed to Nicholas Hawksmoor.
  • Berwick Town Hall, designed by S&J Worrell and built in 1754–1760. 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.[77]
  • Dewars Lane Granary, built in 1769, now restored as a hotel and art gallery.[78]
  • 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 mi (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.[79]
  • The Royal Border Bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson and built in 1847–1850 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
  • 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 110 m (361 ft), 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.[citation needed]
  • There are numerous sea caves on the coastline to the north of Berwick, with lengths up to 67 metres. The caves are found in the cliffs from Green's Haven to the Scottish border at Marshall Meadows Bay.[80]

Notable people

Henry Travers (left) with James Stewart (right)


Berwick-upon-Tweed has a maritime 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), more resembling a Scottish climate. 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. Rainfall is relatively low by British standards, with 589.2 millimetres (23+316 in) on average; nonetheless, sunshine is limited to an average 1508.5 hours per annum. All data are sourced from the Berwick-upon-Tweed station operated by the Met Office.[81]

See also