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Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland

Historical Description

Berwick-upon-Tweed, a seaport, market-town, municipal borough, and parish in Northumberland. Constituted a county of itself under 6 & 7 William IV. c. 103, Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1882 was transferred from the diocese of Durham, to which it had belonged since 1310, to the newly formed diocese of Newcastle-on-Tyne. It formerly returned two members to Parliament, but under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, was disfranchised, and for the purposes of parliamentary elections became part of the county of Northumberland. The town stands on the left bank of the Tweed, adjacent to the junction of the N.E. and the North British railways, 64 miles by road and 67} by railway N by W of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Its site is a gentle declivity sloping to the river about ½ a mile from the sea. A tract of about 8 square miles around it, and including it, was formerly a peculiar jurisdiction, neither in England nor in Scotland, but by a recent Act was incorporated with Northumberland. This is called the Liberties of Berwick, and forms the parish of Berwick-on-Tweed. The environs are diversified and beautiful, present picturesque views, especially along the Tweed and on the coast, and comprise charming walks and drives.

The town dates from ancient times, but comes obscurely into record, and probably was founded by the Saxon kings of Nortbumbria. It was taken in 880 by Gregory of Scotland; given in 1020 by the Cospatricks to Malcolm IV.; and figured in the early part of the next century as a place of mark, the capital of Lothian, and one of the first four royal boroughs of Scotland. It was taken from the Scots in 1174 by Henry II.; restored to them by Richard I.; ravaged by King John; taken in 1272 by Edward I., who crowned Baliol at it in 1292; taken again in 1295 by Edward, and made his capital of Scotland; retaken in 1297 by the Scots under Wallace, while its castle remained with the English; made the scene in 1305 of the exposure of lialf of the body of the executed Wallace; the place in 1310 of the winter residence of Edward II. and his queen; the place in 1314 of the mustering of the English army before the battle of Ban-nockburn; taken again in 1318 by the Scots under Bruce; retaken in 1333 by the English after the battle of Halidon Hill; surprised and recaptured in 1353 by the Scots; recaptured next year by the English; surprised again in 1377 by seven Scotsmen, and held eight days against 7000 archers and 3000 cavalry; recovered by the Percys and used by them in 1406 against the Crown; taken promptly from them through the astounding effect of cannon shot, the first ever fired in England; attempted in 1422 by the Scots; ceded to them in 1461 by Margaret of Anjou after the battle of Towton; re-ceded in 1482 to the English; and declared in 1551 a neutral territory, independent of both England and Scotland. It was visited in 1603 by James I. on his way to England, in 1633 and 1639 by Charles L, and taken in 1648 by Cromwell.

Many fortifications at different periods were raised round the town, and the latest walls, together with small portions of more ancient works, are still standing. The original walls comprehended a circuit of nearly 2½ miles, and included the present suburb of Castlegate; a tower belonging to them, used as a watch-tower, with commanding outlook on the surrounding country, and called the Bell Tower, still exists. The present walls comprehend a circuit of about 1¾ mile; were built in the time of Elizabeth; and consist of a broad rampart formed of earth, faced with masonry, and defended on the land sides by five bastions, but they were dismantled in 1822, and are now disposed in a pleasant promenade. The castle or citadel stood contiguous on the W, on high ground sloping precipitously to the Tweed; it dates from the same remote times as the town, long possessed much military strength, went into disrepair in the time of Elizabeth, contributed much building material for the town in the time of Cromwell, and has now all disappeared except the dilapidated exterior western wall. The Countess of Buchan was shut up in it, in a wicker cage, four years by Edward I. for putting the crown on the head of Robert Bruce at his coronation.

The town presents a mixed appearance of the ancient and the modern. Two chief lines of street intersect it, the one from N to S, the other from E to W, and divide it into four nearly equal parts. The town-hall, at the foot of High Street, was built about 1755 by Dodds, and has a tetrastyle Doric portico and a tower surmounted by a spire 150 feet high. The offices and buildings of the Urban Sanitary Authority was formerly the gaol, on the E side of Wallace Green, which was built in 1849 at a cost of £8000. The corn exchange was built in 1858 at a cost of about £5000. The barracks were built in 1719, and enclose a quadrangle of 217 feet by 121. The railway station occupies the site of the castle, is a castellated structure 190 feet long, and has all its offices on the east side. The railway viaduct over the Tweed is 2160 feet long; lias twenty-eight semicircular arches, eacli 60 feet in span; is 134 feet high from foundation to roadway; and commands a superb view. The carriage bridge was built in 1609-34; is 1164 feet long, but only 17 feet wide; has 15 arches, gradually diminishing in span. The docks, opened in 1876, cost £90,000. The harbour-pier was constructed in 1810 at a coat of £50,000; runs nearly ½ a mile into the sea; and is crowned at the end by two fixed lights. The parish church was completed in the time of Cromwell, the plans having been made in the time of James I. by an Italian architect, on the site of a previous edifice in which David Bruce was married to the sister of Edward III.; it was restored and enlarged in 1855, is a stately building of Italian architecture without a tower, and lias a good organ. St Mary's Church was built in 1858. There are also a Roman Catholic chapel, and dissenting chapels for Presbyterians, Baptists, Primitive Methodists, and Wes-leyans; a grammar school, founded in 1632 and reconstituted in 1880, with endowed income of £150; a school for the sons of freemen supported by the corporation, and several other schools; a dispensary and infirmary; a workhouse, altered and enlarged; assembly rooms, in which concerts, &c., are held; and a public subscription library. A nunnery was founded by David I., a friary in 1270, and a priory at some other period, but all have disappeared.

The town lias a head post office, a telegraph station, several banks, and it publishes five weekly newspapers. A weekly market is held on Saturday, fairs for cattle and liorses on the first Saturday in March, May, and Nov., also a fair on the last Friday of May. Iron working, the trades connected with a seaport, and various kinds of manufacture on a small scale, are carried on. The adjacent fisheries were once worth £15,000 a year, but have much decreased in value. There are a custom house and a coastguard station. The harbour is rocky, and suffers much from a shifting bar, but has good anchorage within. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1893 was 12 (573 tons). The entries and clearances each average 290 (31,000 tons) per annum. The chief imports are timber, iron, bones, phosphates, hemp, and tallow; and the chief exports, corn, coal, salmon, and provisions. The town held various charters amid its shifting fortunes, but became permanently incorporated by charter of James VI. (James I. of England), and now as a borough includes two parishes—namely, Berwick-on-Tweed on the north side, and Tweedmouth on the south side of the river. Berwick-on-Tweed lias still a separate jurisdiction, with quarter sessions and a recorder. Spittal, which is situated on the south side of the mouth of the Tweed, is being greatly improved, has a cement sea wall and promenade, and is becoming a popular watering-place. It has a spa well containing iron, &c., is part of the municipal borough, and is in the parish of Tweedmouth. Berwick-on-Tweed is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, who also act as the Urban Sanitary Authority, and in whom the waterworks are vested. The town is divided into four municipal wards, viz.:—North, Middle, Tweedmouth, and Spittal. Area of municipal borough, 6507 acres; population, 13,377. The parish comprises 5367 acres of land and 461 of foresliore and water; population, 8532. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Newcastle; net value, £500 with residence. Patron, the Bishop of Newcastle. St Mary's is a separate benefice, a vicarage of the gross value of £340 with residence, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Durham. Population of the ecclesiastical parish of Holy Trinity, 6216; of St Mary, 2316.

Berwick-upon-Tweed Parliamentary Division of Northumberland wass formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 52,438. The division includes the following:— Bamburgh Ward—Adderstone, Bamburgh, Barn burgh Castle, Beadnell, Belford, Bradford, Budle, Burton, Chathill, Det-chant, Easington, Easington Grange, Elford, Ellingham, Elwick, Fleetham, Glororum, Hoppen, Lucker, Middleton, Mousen, Newham, Newstead, Outchester, Preston, Batch-wood, Ross, Shoston, Spindleston, Sunderland (North), Swinhoe, Tughall, Warenford, Warenton, Fame Islands, Monk's House; Coquetdale Ward (part of East Division)— Acton and Old Felton, Ainmouth, Alnwick, Bassington, Birling, Boulmer and Seaton Ho.use, Brotherwick, Broxfield, 144 Brunton, Buston (High), Buston (Low), Charlton (North), Charlton (South), Craster, Ditchburn, Dunstan, Doxford, Elyhaugh, Embleton, Falloden, Felton, Greens and Glantlees, Hazon and Hartlow, Howick, Lesbury, Littlehoughton, Long-houghton, Newton-on-the-Moor, Newton-by-the-Sea, Ren-nington, Rock, Shilbottle, Shipley, Stamford, Sturton Grange, Swarland, Walkmill, Whittle, Woodhouse; Coquetdale Ward (North Division)—Abberwick, Ainham, Beanley, Bewick (New), Bewick (Old), Bolton, Brandon, Branton, Broompark, Callaley and Yethngton, Crawley, Edlingham, Eglingham; Fawdon, Clinch, and Hartside; Glanton, Harehope, Hedgeley, Ingram Linhope and Greenshaw Hill, Leal-child, Lemming-ton, Lorbottle, Prendwick, Reaveley, Ryle (Great), Kyle (Little), Shawdou, Screnwood, Tithngton, Unthank, Wooper-ton, Whittingham; Glendale Ward—Akeld, Branxton, Car-ham (part of), Chatton, Chillingham, Coldsmouth and Thompson's Walls, Coupland, Crookliouse, Doddington, Earle, Ewart, Ford, Grey's Forest, Hebburn, Heathpool, Howtell, Humble-ton, Ilderton, Kilham, Kirknewton, Lanton, Lilburn (East), Lilburn (West), Lowick, Middleton Hall, Middleton (North), Middleton (South), Milfield, Nesbit, Newtown, Paston, Roddam, Roseden, Selby's Forest, Westnewton, Wooler, Yeaver-ing; Norham and Islandshire—Ancroft, Carham (part of), Conihill, Duddo, Felkington, Grindon, Holy Island, Horn-cliffe, Kyloe, Loanend, Longridge, Norham, Norham Mains, Ross, Shoreswood, Thornton, Tweedmouth, part of (Ord), Twizel; Berwick-upon-Twccd, municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCounty Durham 
Ecclesiastical parishBerwick-upon-Tweed Holy Trinity 
Poor Law unionBerwick-upon-Tweed 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Berwick upon Tweed from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Northumberland is available to browse.


Online maps of Berwick upon Tweed are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers related to Northumberland online: