Historical description of Berwickshire, Scotland

BERWICKSHIRE, a maritime county, in the south-east of Scotland, bounded on the north by the German Ocean and the county of Haddington; on the east and north-east, by the German Ocean; on the south, by the river Tweed, which separates it from the English counties of Durham and Northumberland; and on the west and south-west, by the counties of Edinburgh and Roxburgh. It lies between 55° 36' 30" and 55° 58' 30" (N. Lat.), and 1° 41' and 2° 34' (W. Long.), and is about thirty-five miles in length, and twenty-two miles in extreme breadth; comprising about 4465 square miles, or 285,760 acres, and 7408 inhabited houses, and 381 uninhabited; and containing a population of 34,438, of whom 16,558 are males, and 17,880 females. The county derives its name from the ancient town of Berwick, formerly the county town, and was originally inhabited by the Ottadini. After the Roman invasion it formed part of the province of Valentia; and though not the site of any station of importance, it is intersected by several Roman roads. Subsequently to the departure of the Romans from Britain, this part of the country was continually exposed to the predatory incursions of the Saxons, by whom, about the middle of the sixth century, it was subdued, and annexed to the kingdom of Northumbria, of which it continued to form part till the year 1020, when it was ceded to Malcolm II., King of Scotland, by Cospatrick, Earl of Northumberland, whom that monarch made Earl of Dunbar.

From its situation on the borders, the county was the scene of frequent hostilities, and an object of continual dispute between the Scots and the English. In 1176, it was surrendered by William the Lion to Henry II. of England, by whom he had been made prisoner in battle, as security for the performance of the treaty of Falaise, on failure of which it was for ever to remain a part of the kingdom of England. On payment of a ransom, it was restored to the Scots by Richard I. In 1216 it suffered greatly from the army of John, who, to punish the barons of Northumberland for having done homage to Alexander, King of Scotland, burnt the towns of Roxburgh, Mitford, and Morpeth, and laid waste nearly the whole county of Northumberland. During the disputed succession to the Scottish throne, after the death of Alexander III., this district suffered materially from the contending parties; and in 1291 the town of Berwick was surrendered to Edward I. of England, who, as lord paramount of Scotland, received the oaths of fealty and allegiance from many of the Scottish nobility. The inhabitants soon after revoking their allegiance to the English crown, Edward advanced with his army to Berwick, which he took by assault, and held a parliament in the castle, in 1296, when he received the oath of allegiance; and in the year following he made Berwick the metropolis of the English government in Scotland. The town was restored to the Scots in 1318, but, after the death of James III., was finally ceded by treaty to the English, in 1482. In 1551, the town, with a district adjoining, called the liberties of Berwick, was made independent of both kingdoms, and invested with peculiar privileges. After Berwick ceased to be the county town, the general business of the county was transacted at Dunse or Lauder, till the year 1596, when Greenlaw was selected by James VI. as the most appropriate for the purpose; and that arrangement was ratified by act of parliament in 1600.

The county was anciently included in the diocese of St. Andrew's; it is now almost wholly in the synod of Merse and Teviotdale, and comprises several presbyteries, with thirty-four parishes. Exclusively of the seaport of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which has a separate jurisdiction, it contains the county town of Greenlaw, the royal burgh of Lauder, and the towns of Dunse, Coldstream, and Eyemouth, with the villages of Ayton, Gourdon, Earlstoun, Chirnside, Coldingham, and others. Under the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., the county returns one member to the imperial parliament. Its surface varies in the different districts into which the county is naturally divided, and which are the Merse, Lammermoor, and Lauderdale. The Merse is a level district, extending for nearly twenty miles along the north bank of the Tweed, and about ten miles in breadth; it is richly fertile, and well inclosed, pleasingly diversified with gentle eminences, and enriched with plantations. The district of Lammermoor, nearly of equal extent, and parallel with the Merse, is a hilly tract, chiefly adapted for pasture. The district of Lauder, to the west of the two former, is also diversified with hills, affording good pasturage for sheep, principally of the black-faced breed, and for a coarse breed of black-cattle; and has fertile vales of arable land, yielding abundant crops. In this county the highest hills are in the Lammermoor range, varying from 1500 to 1650 feet in height. The principal rivers are, the Tweed, which forms the southern boundary of the county; the Whitadder, the Blackadder, the Leader, and the Eden, which are tributaries to the Tweed; and the river Eye, which falls into the sea at Eyemouth. The coast is bold and rocky, rising precipitously to a great height, and is almost inaccessible, except at Eyemouth and Coldingham Bay, and in some few points where there are small beaches of sand or gravel near the rocks. The minerals found are not of any importance: some coal has been discovered in the parishes of Mordington and Cockburnspath; limestone, marl, and gypsum have been quarried, but to no great extent, and freestone and whinstone are abundant. The annual value of the real property in the county is £254,169, of which £237,042 are returned for lands, £16,743 for houses, £196 for fisheries, and £188 for quarries. In Berwickshire the chief seats are Thirlstane Castle, Dryburgh Abbey, Mellerstain, The Hirsel, Marchmont, Ladykirk, Blackadder, Dunse Castle, Kelloe, Mertoun, Spottiswood, Ayton, Dunglass, Wedderburn, Paxton, Langton, Kimmergham, and Nisbet.

Great facility of intercourse is afforded by the North- British railway, and its branch to Dunse. In the county of Haddington, the railway passes through a country of undulating surface, richly cultivated, and presenting scenery of the softer kind, with villages, hamlets, and other simply rural features interspersed. On entering Berwickshire, however, at Cockburnspath, the prospect changes; the country around is bold and striking, steep hills and deep ravines appear, and the scenery is of a more romantic character. From Cockburnspath to Houndwood is a range of seven miles of this interesting scenery, after which the country opens out, and the eye of the traveller takes in a sweetly rural landscape of five or six miles on either side, of well cultivated and richly-wooded land, adorned with cottages, hamlets, and gentlemen's seats. After passing Ayton the line runs along the coast, at an elevation of fifty or sixty feet, sometimes within two or three yards of the cliff's edge.

Transcribed from Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851