Berwick-Upon-Tweed, the former county town of Berwickshire, had a population of 11,665 at the time of the United Kingdom Census 2001. The wider Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed has a population of 25,949. There is consideration in Berwick about the possibility of creating a parish council for the town.
Being central to a border war between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England since the 11th century, the town has lain within England since 1482. However, Berwick has strong cultural links with Scotland. Berwick remains a traditional market town. It also boasts some notable architectural features, in particular its defence ramparts and barrack buildings.
In the post-Roman period, the area would have been inhabited by the Brythons of Bryneich, who were in turn conquered by the Anglo-Saxons, who created the kingdom of Bernicia, which united with the Kingdom of Deira to form Northumbria. The area was then settled by the Norse, mainly Danes.
Berwick's strategic position on the English-Scottish border during centuries of war between the two nations and its relatively great wealth led to a succession of raids, sieges and take-overs. Between 1147 and 1482 the town changed hands between England and Scotland more than 13 times, and was the location of a number of momentous events in the English-Scottish border wars. One of the most brutal sackings was by King Edward I of England in 1296, and set the precedent for bitter border conflict in the Scottish Wars of Independence.
In the 13th century Berwick was one of the most wealthy trading ports in Scotland, providing an annual customs value of £2,190, equivalent to a quarter of all customs revenues received north of the border. A contemporary description of the town asserted that "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". Amongst the town's exports were wool, grain and salmon, while merchants from Germany and the Low Countries set up businesses in the town in order to trade.
The Scots also had a mint at Berwick, producing Scottish coinage. In contrast, under English rule, Berwick was a garrison town first, and a port second. In around 1120, King David I of Scotland made Berwick one of Scotland's four royal burghs, which allowed the town's freemen a number of rights and privileges.
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."
In 1174, Berwick was paid as part of the ransom of William I of Scotland to Henry II of England. It was sold back to Scotland by Richard I of England, to raise money to pay for Crusades. It was destroyed in 1216 by King John of England, who attended in person the razing of the town with some barbarity.
Eddington remarks "Berwick, by the middle of the 13th century, was considered a second Alexandria, so extensive was its commerce". However, Berwick appended its signature to King John Balliol's new treaty with France, England's old enemy, and on March 30, 1296, Edward I stormed Berwick after a prolonged siege, sacking it with much bloodshed. His army slaughtered almost everyone who resided in the town, even if they fled to the churches. Some eight thousand inhabitants being put to the sword. "From that time", states Eddington, "the greatest merchant city in Scotland sank into a small seaport."
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 I of Scotland (John Balliol) to abdicate at Kincardine Castle the following July. (The first town walls were built during the reign of Edward I.) The "homage" was not received well, and the Ragman Roll as it was known, earned itself a name of notoriety in the post-independence period of Scotland. Some believe it to be the origin of the term "rigmarole", although this may be a folk etymology.
An arm of William Wallace was displayed at Berwick after his execution and quartering on 5 August 1305. In 1314 Edward II of England mustered 25,000 men at Berwick, who later fought in (and lost) the Battle of Bannockburn.
On 1 April 1318, it was captured by the Scots; Berwick Castle was also taken after a three-month siege. In 1330 "Domino Roberto de Lawedre" of The Bass, described as Custodian or Keeper of the Marches and the Castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed, received, apparently upon the termination of his employment there, £33.6s.8d, plus a similar amount, from the Scottish Exchequer.
The English retook Berwick some time shortly after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. 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, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346.
In 1461/2 Berwick was recovered by the Scots and Robert Lauder of Edrington was put in charge of the castle. Scott relates: "About 1462 Berwick Castle was put into the hands of Robert Lauder of Edrington, an important official and soldier in Scotland at that time. Lauder kept his position uninterruptedly until 1474 when he was succeeded by David, Earl of Crawford. In 1464 Robert Lauder was paid £20 for repairs made to Berwick Castle."
On February 3, 1478 Robert Lauder of The Bass and Edrington was again appointed Keeper of the castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed with a retainer of £250 per annum. He continued in that position until the last year of Scottish occupation, when Patrick Hepburn, 1st Lord Hailes, had possession.
In 1482 the town was captured by Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III, although not officially merged into England. England has administered the town since this date.
In 1551, the town was made a 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" — 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. Although most of Berwick Castle was demolished in the 19th century to make way for the railway, the military barracks remain, as do the town's rampart walls — one of the finest remaining examples of its type in the country.
In 1603, Berwick was the first English town to greet James VI of Scotland on his way to being crowned James I of England - upon crossing Berwick Bridge, James is supposed to have declared the town neither belonging to England nor belonging to Scotland but part of the united Crown's domain.
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' control. The two sides did not fight, but negotiated a settlement, "the Pacification of Berwick", in June, under which the King agreed that all disputed questions should be referred to another General Assembly or to the Scottish Parliament.
Holy Trinity Church was built in 1650–52, on the initiative of the governor, Colonel George Fenwicke. Churches of the Commonwealth period are very rare. The church has no steeple, supposedly at the behest of Oliver Cromwell, who passed through the town in 1650 on his way to the Battle of Dunbar.
Berwick was never annexed to England. Contention about whether the town belongs to England or Scotland was ended though in 1707 by the union of the two. Berwick remains 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 attempting to define Berwick as part of England. (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., which thus includes Berwick.)
Berwick remained a county in its own right, and was not included in Northumberland for Parliamentary purposes until 1885.
The Redistribution Act 1885, reduced the number of Members of Parliament [MPs] returned by the town from two to one.
On 1 April 1974, the current 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.
However, Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick, said the move would require a massive legal upheaval and is not realistic. However he is contradicted by another member of his party, the Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis, who was born and brought up in Berwick. Purvis has asked for the border to be moved twenty miles south (i.e., south of the Tweed) to include Berwick borough council rather than just the town, and has said:
According to a poll conducted by a TV company, 60% of residents favoured Berwick rejoining Scotland. The issue is to be the centre of a new BBC comedy-drama series, A Free Country, commissioned in 2008 from writer Tony Saint.
The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 that abolished Berwickshire incorporated its area into the Borders Region. The region existed from 1975 until 1996, and was divided into four districts, one of which was named Berwickshire. The District of Berwickshire was not identical with the former county however.
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 April 1, 1974 it was merged with Belford Rural District, Glendale Rural District and Norham and Islandshires Rural District. There is currently talk of abolishing this council area, and merging it with ones to the south.
The name "Berwickshire" is still in common, though unofficial, usage. The Berwickshire News is still published weekly, and numerous organisations and groups have retained Berwickshire in their titles (i.e.: the Berwickshire Housing Association, Berwickshire Sports Council). The Berwickshire Civic Society is currently (2007) campaigning for road signs at the entrances to the old county to have notices added saying 'You are now entering the ancient county of Berwickshire', and they hold an annual Keep Berwickshire Tidy Campaign, judged each April.
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 of 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.
Nevertheless, in 1966 a Soviet official waited upon the Mayor of Berwick, Councillor Robert Knox, and a peace treaty was formally signed. Mr Knox is reputed to have said "Please tell the Russian people that they can sleep peacefully in their beds." To complicate the issue, some have noted that Knox did not have any authority with regard to foreign relations, and thus may have exceeded his powers as mayor in concluding a peace treaty. The whole curious scenario was the focus of a question on the third series of the gameshow QI.
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, 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 small supermarket in the vincity too. A new office development is due to be built in the Walker Gate.
There is a retail park in Tweedmouth consisting of some units. Berwick Borough Council refused a proposal from ASDA in 2006 to build a store near the site , later giving Tesco the green light for their new store in the town.
Motorcycle 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).
Berwick is unique for an English town in that both their football and rugby teams play their matches in the Scottish leagues.
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 has a station. A small sea-port at Tweedmouth facilitates the import and export of goods, but provides no passenger services.