Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

The Gateway of Scotland
Chapter I. Berwick-on-Tweed


"WELL, old man," said one of two long expatriated Scots to the other, with a slap on the knee and a fervour worthy of the occasion, "we're back in bonnie Scotland at last."

The scene was a railway carriage on the London and Edinburgh Express as it rolled slowly off the great Berwick viaduct on to the northern shore of the Tweed. It was unfortunate that the only other occupant of the compartment, who told me the story, was not only an oft-times Mayor of Berwick, but one of the most conspicuously zealous and erudite exponents of its historical past. And that Berwick is properly jealous of its ancient dignities, its quasi-autonomy in the first place, and, in the second, its inclusion or partnership in the kingdom of England, with that punctiliousness, too, which is only found on borders, is a mere truism. So in the few moments occupied in reaching Berwick platform, there was fortunately for them only time to inform these presumptuous Scots, with the curtness enforced by circumstances and justified by fact, that they were not by any means in bonnie Scotland, and would not be for some miles yet. Whether they called a porter to solve the mystery at Berwick station, or went on their way rejoicing as careless sceptics, matters nothing. For their only interest here is as prevalent and not abnormal types of the British traveller. At any rate very few Southern acquaintances of mine, I am quite sure, would have felt any call to damp the patriotism of the Scottish exiles or been any wiser than they. Possibly a majority of Southerners and plenty of others besides would place Berwick-on-Tweed in Scotland, if suddenly challenged to stand and deliver themselves on the subject. And if a vague recollection of something geographically eccentric about Berwick comes down to them from days before they went to a public school and forgot their elementary geography and history, it is pretty certain that the town alone would be associated with it. Berwick bounds may possibly flicker as a dim phrase in some half-remembered ballad. But that the whole south-eastern corner of what by every law of nature and common sense should be the Scottish county of Berwickshire beyond Tweed, even to the measure of some eight square miles of pastoral and tillage upland, is English soil, remains, I feel morally certain, a geographical and political curiosity only understood by Borderers. Thousands upon thousands of Southerners by rail, and nowadays by road too, traverse this famous little "County of the borough and town of Berwick-on-Tweed" every summer, en route for the Highlands. It would be interesting to know how many of them hail the Tweed as they cross its waters as the Scottish boundary, and if road travellers pass Lamberton old toll bar without even a nod of recognition.

Berwick, I think, changed hands thirteen times; and if England had held it continuously as a protection to her frontier for over a century, it was a Scottish king of his own free will, in the exuberance of high spirits natural to the occasion, who confirmed its status. One can imagine a pawky soul like James VI., as on his journey southward he licked his chops at the fat prospect ahead of him, being in a mind to shower charters upon Englishmen. For Berwick, hitherto the Key of England, had now with the Union of the Crowns become politically inconsequent. "The Borders are no longer the Borders, but the centre of my kingdom," exclaimed the joyful Jamie as he headed for the cakes and ale of the south, and fired a gun with his own hand from Berwick ramparts, in rather inauspicious augury, one might fancy, of the powder that was to be consumed before his ill-starred progeny were to be finally got rid of.
Dull indeed must be the soul who can look across over a brimming Tweed to the red-roofed, wall-girt town climbing the further shore to the sky-line without a quickening pulse. Northern towns, like northern folk, only more so, are apt to disguise their sentiment beneath a stern exterior, even when restless modern enterprise has not besmirched them out of all recognition. Glasgow was once the most bowery and altogether attractive town in Scotland, and delighted the eye of the eighteenth-century foreigner fresh from the gloomy shades and the insanitary terrors of Auld Reekie's mile-long highway. I have never read any eulogies of pristine Newcastle, King Coal having so early marked it for his own and befouled the streams of Tyne. But Berwick has happily escaped all taint or smirch of such necessary abominations, and still leads, as a place so nobly situated and of such teeming memories should lead, the clean and simple life, dealing only in the ancient products of land or sea. It is distressing that nearly all of the ancient castle, which must have stood up so proudly at the highest angle of that almost perfect circuit of enclosing wall which still haply surrounds the town, should have been displaced by a railway station. But we may be thankful that a generation which permitted this did not do a great deal more. It might have laid despoiling hands on a girdle of fortification not merely unique in Britain, but associated with a place where of all others perhaps such reminders of a warlike age should make stirring and direct appeal to the historic fancy. Carlisle, Chester and Shrewsbury, York and Conway, each in their degree, have the same old tale still eloquent on their face. But Berwick was in truth the Key of England as it was by the same token the menace of Scotland. For look in the map, how old Northumberland here thrusts its narrow crown into the very flanks of its ancient foe, and how Berwick, like an outpost of an outpost, stands beyond the Rubicon!

The sunshine which illuminates so many days upon this north-eastern coast, and that, too, with something more of radiancy and sparkle than is common in our misty island, lights up the ancient town upon its genial southern slope, its tile roofs, and its patches of foliage with admirable effect. If a railway viaduct may be denied all harmony with a walled town, it can at Ieast be imposing, and one is forced to admit that this gigantic structure, half a mile in length, and held in mid-air by nearly thirty arches, a hundred and forty feet high, makes no bad foreground to a distant prospect of town and river. Maybe there is something in the very contrast between this modern masterpiece, these elegant aerial arches with the train like a child's toy crawling over them, striding from hilltop to hilltop as if in utter contempt of Tweed's broad flood, and the old Tudor bridge, squat and massive, thrusting its long procession of low arches over the river's broad surface into the heart of the town.

The High Street of Berwick has a fitting portal in the Scots Gate, which connects the ramparts near the top of the town. It terminates, as if to mark the procession of history, in an imposing Town Hall that has the half-assimilated House of Hanover—I mean the period—writ Iarge all over it. Its dates, too, are remarkable. For the first part was finished in 1754, not probably an annus mirabilis in the historical curriculum of Berwickian schoolrooms, but the year when even Horace Walpole, who did not think imperially, wrote down that a random volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America, set the world on fire, or, in other words, that the great struggle between England and France for North America had begun. The year of its completion was the very one which witnessed the extinction of that conflagration and found Great Britain mistress of North America from the Floridas to the Pole, and of Heaven knows how much more besides. The belfry seems to belong to an earlier date, and the bells must have been just recast in time to ring out the capture of Louisbourg and to take up its turn as the church steeples of Northumberland echoed northward the greater glory of Quebec. Like the rest, too, no doubt it varied its frenzies with solemn tolls for the dead Wolfe, who in the preceding years, as a captain, major, or colonel of infantry, had many a time marched through Berwick. It was a neighbour, too—Captain Douglas of the Royal Navy—who brought the news to England, and his portrait hangs in the home of his descendants at, Springwood Park, near Kelso. Belfries were in truth kept busy enough in those glorious and crowded years of Chatham's war, to say nothing of tolling out one George and ringing in another. I never look at Berwick To Hall without a passing thought of America; not of that gigantic modern organism of motley composition and restless enterprise and overpowering modernity that stands for the term to-day, but the America of Washington and Franklin, and of those old communities still representative in their varying types of the past cleavages, civil and religious, of the Mother Country. But there would need something more perhaps than the niere accident of a famous birth year to justify these parenthetical phiIanderings in Berwick High Street, and so there is. For contemporaries and repIicas more or less of Berwick's Town Hall still here and there greet the wanderer in the old States of America, solitary landmarks of another age when they too rang heals on the King's birthday, and celebrated British victories in the Mediterranean or the Spanish Main. It must be furthermore recorded that this aspiring belfry, which commands such a breadth of classic soil and troubled sea, has exercised a function altogether unique, I believe, among civic buildings; for Berwick is nothing if not original in almost all that concerns it.

A Cromwellian church, though . a rarity, if not generally a highly prized one, may be found here and there throughout England, but I do not know of any other church, Norman, Gothic, Cromwellian, or Georgian, whose bells are hung in the Town Hall and ring people to their devotions as these have done for centuries from the other end of the town. Here also still tolls the curfew, not merely at eight in the evening, but also at five in the morning, as the, light sleeper will discover.

The wide, sloping High Street of Berwick wears for a northern town a really cheerful countenance, and the shops that front it make a display worthy of a place that, if it owes little or nothing to urban industries, takes toll from no mean territory of both nations, to say nothing of having been addressed in Royal Proclamations as a kingdom unto itself. It is still the common stamping-ground of the men of the Merse and of Northumberland, but in a fashion far different from the days when no name was bad enough for each to hurl at the other, or even in friendlier and more recent times when the Scottish and English carters stood on different sides of the market. It is now Northumbrian ground in every essential particular, the powers of life and death granted or confirmed by James's charter to the Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen, having been abolished in 1842, seventeen years before which they hung their last man or woman on Gallows Hill outside the old castle.

Berwick even still boasts the largest grain market in the north. Though so much of Northumberland has been laid away to grass, among Berwickshire farmers, stimulated not a little by the local brewers and distillers, wheat within the same easy memory has been largely displaced by barley. But all this country on both sides of the Border is the domain of the agriculturist and the grazier at their greatest and almost at their best, and of a land that giveth of its uttermost, as any one but a Cockney could see at a glance if he were satisfied with that, which will not be our case here. Berwickshire lairds and their broad-acred tenants, Northumbrian squires with their yet broader-acred ones, Scottish ministers and Anglican parsons, no longer outwardly distinguishable from one another, all forgather in Berwick High Street. As a matter of fact, I fancy a good deal of Berwickshire county business is discussed informally, at any rate, in the English town which most outsiders no doubt assume to be its capital. Hinds and bondagers in their best apparel from the fat lands of the Merse, or even shepherds from the southern slope of the Lammermoors or the heart of the Cheviots, or from the nearer mid-Northumbrian heaths, may be descried on market days, glowering with enraptured gaze at the resplendent shop fronts. But to give point to anything further that may be said here about the Berwick of to-day, some brief sketch of its crowded story seems quite imperative.

The long and bloody turmoil which raged for years before and after the Norman Conquest need not detain us, for Berwick and the river Tweed had small significance when Northumbria reached from the Tyne to the Forth, and the mightiest rock fortress in England, upon the high crag at Bamburgh, dominated a homogeneous Saxon people. The blood-spilling and devastation that preceded the arrival of William the Norman and split the Lothians and the Merse from Northumberland, was no question of race, nor of popular movement, but a mere orgy of kings and chieftains consumed with those passions for power or revenge which made up the main interest of their lives. It will be enough that the Lower Tweed became the boundary between King William's England and that heterogeneous collection of provinces and races that gave but intermittent and uncertain allegiance to the Scottish throne, till the prowess of Bruce and Wallace made that country, the Highland clans excepted, into a nation, and created the patriotism that gives the term significance. So without boggling over the prior scuffles of Dane, Scot, or Saxon, or the blows of the Norman Conqueror, which fell indiscriminately upon all such as were left of them, it will be quite enough to think of the Tweed in its historic sense, with Berwick for its watchtower, as dating from the Norman Conquest. It is better for general purposes to charge the memory with a luminous epoch that is approximately correct than to confuse it with intricate modifications that do not really matter.

So when the Lower Tweed became the boundary between the kingdoms, Berwick, as was natural, remained a Scottish town, and though occasionally captured in times of war, no idea of attaching it to England seems to have been current. It was held once or twice as a pledge for the good conduct of Scottish kings who had been worsted after making themselves troublesome on English soil, but that is another thing altogether. With a brief exception, Berwick was a purely Scottish town till the wars of Edward I., when the real ill-humour and hatred between England and Scotland began. Moreover, it was a marvellously busy and prosperous place as well as the constant resort of Scottish monarchs. Edinburgh and St. Andrews alone rivalled it in the northern kingdom, and scarcely any seaports in England equalled its foreign trade; for though Scottish politically it tapped the whole of the English Borders. It was in the long and beneficent reign of King David of Scotland, who made it one of his four royal boroughs, that Berwick attained to its full importance, and this was in the first half of the twelfth century. Attempts were even made to reunite Northumberland with the land between the Treed and Forth, but these came from the Scottish, not the English kings, and only brought defeat and disaster, notoriously so, at the hands of Henry II., who retained Berwick Castle as the price of victory. It was sold back to William the Lion of Scotland by Richard I., who would have sold anything for cash to finance his crusades to the Holy Land. William, however, was foolish enough at Richard's death to grasp again at Northumberland, which brought down John to Berwick, when a truce was made. Alexander, William's son, undeterred by his father's example, again flouted John, who was ill to provoke if there was any chance of his gaining the mastery. He came this time with a great host, vowing vengeance. Alexander made no attempt to hold Berwick, whose citizens were barbarously treated by John's soldiers, even to hanging them up by their fingers and toes till they disclosed the whereabouts of their treasures. After a devastating excursion into the Lothians, the King burned Berwick, setting fire, it is said, to the very house that had sheltered him with his own hand When he had eaten the district bare, and made a bonfire of anything that would burn, he retired to look after his refractory barons in the south, and after some retaliation on the part of the Scots and great fulminations on the part of the Pope, things eventually quieted down. After these amenities and with the death of John there was something like peace between the kingdoms and much good-will between the royal houses, strengthened by marriage ties, for some seventy years; and, indeed, the real severance between the Scottish and English people had not yet begun. An attempt was made to define the Border line, but this was in parts so shadowy that it was left undetermined, with the ever famous " debatable land " in the middle and western marches. The Scottish kings gave up all designs on Northumberland, and as regards the indeterminate nature of the political nationality of Cumberland through this period, we are in no way concerned with it.

But it needed something more than a fire in those days of wooden houses, or a massacre in times when human life was of small account, to quench the prosperity of a town that had any measure of it, and Berwick had a great deal. So its wool trade continued to flourish, and fleets of ships cleared from the mouth of Tweed for Flanders and for Calais. Flemish traders settled in the town, and the present post office in the wool market marks the site of the Red Hall, then the Exchange. The customs revenue from the port was an immense asset to the poor kingdom of Scotland, and was equal to one-fourth of all the customs of England, while the wealth of its prosperous burghers must have been great for the times. They bestowed gifts upon almost every abbey in Scotland, and they lived in palaces, while Berwick was a second Alexandria, according to an enthusiastic visitor at that time. No wonder the Scottish kings and queens delighted in the hospitality of a place that must have been a prodigious contrast to the rest of their dominions, though it seems probable that southern Scotland in the thirteenth century enjoyed many amenities and advantages of civilisation that were swept away for centuries by the coming cataclysm and the chronic turbulence it created.

"Alexander our King was dede,
That Scotland led in luv and I,
Alwaye was sovs of ale and brede
Of wyne and wax of gamyn and gle,
Our gold was changed into Iede.'

Edward I. was a great warrior and statesman beyond any doubt, but one of ruthless methods, and his shadow lay upon the coming centuries, whether for good or evil, at any rate after a fashion altogether foreign to his calculations. Ile had disposed of the remnants of Welsh independence, with which his predecessors had wrought unsuccessfully for two centuries, in one final campaign, and had taken infinite pains to give stability to the administration of an individualistic people, antipathetic and quite unintelligible to his own, but irrevocably destined by geography and by numerical insignificance to the union that he completed. It is not surprising that a man with great ideas and the ability to put them into practice dreamed of a united Britain. Scotland, all at Ieast that stood for it in those days, was largely peopled by men of kindred, not alien ways and speech. His own Norman barons owned bid; slices of it, and passed as Scotsmen when convenient. Their vassals had much more in common with the tenantry of Durham or Northumberland than either had with the natives of Devonshire. Edward was probably not a scientific ethnologist; he had not the benefit of modern analysis as to the conjectural proportion of Pictish, Irish, Scandinavian, or English strains in the blood of southern or eastern Scotsmen. It was enough for him, and would have been enough for any statesman of his day, that the men of all ranks to the north of the Tweed who exchanged blows with him were mainly a variety of that English race whom a divine Providence had called his own Norman stock to rule. IIe was perfectly logical in his views of the peace and power and solidarity so natural a union would confer on the island of Britain. The great barbarous back country to the north and west might well count for nothing with him when it counted for next to nothing politically in the kingdom of Scotland. To the impartial modern not obsessed with the prevalent mania for reviving sectional prejudices under miscalled headings, Edward's statesmanship was surely sound. If it succeeded, one need waste no words on the ages of suffering and misery it would have saved to both nations ; but it was never brought to the test. Fate struck the tall man down too soon, and by the irony so often attached to that sinister deity, made things far worse than they would have been if Edward had left the whole business alone. There had been no previous animosity between English and Scots as such, but the legacy of wars that Edward left to less capable successors created a hatred and, what is more, a national feeling north of the Tweed that had hitherto scarcely existed, and was the fruits of victory. When the peaceful hopes of Edward were frustrated by the death of the young Queen of Scots, whose marriage with the first Prince of 'Wales was to have secured the hoped-for union of the kingdoms, the English King contented himself for the time with the office of arbitrator among the candidates for the Scottish crown. The oft-adjourned ceremonies at Berwick and at Norhain higher up the Tweed, which resulted in the selection of John Baliol, subject to an undertaking of homage to Edward, are among the memorabilia of history.

The last of these momentous gatherings was held in 1292 in the great hall of Berwick Castle, which covered, as already noted, the site of the present railway station. Here were assembled the notabilities of England and Scotland, including the power and might and chivalry of both kingdoms, backed by crowds of commoners from both sides of the Tweed. Few spots in England have witnessed a meeting fraught with more far-reaching consequences to Britain than this one so inharmoniously obscured by a bustling railway station. We all know that neither the selection nor the manner of making it was agreeable to the haughty temper of the Scots. No one probably knew this better than Edward, or, it might perhaps be added, cared less. After his business-like fashion, he had spent the whole summer and autumn in Berwick Castle, and before leaving it he broke the old seal of Scotland into four parts and put them into a leather bag to be placed in the English Treasury as a testimony that the kingdom was now in vassalage. Homage, however, had by no means always the subservient significance that the word might suggest to the casual reader. Without elaborating this matter further, it will be enough that Edward left a very unpleasant taste in the mouth of the Scottish nobles when he departed, while various high-handed measures concerned with Anglo-Scottish commerce and such like which immediately followed showed i hat he by no means intended that his suzerainty should be merely one of lip homage. He was a man who had made few mistakes of policy in his pregnant reign, but he couldn't leave Scotland alone, and pressed his overlordship in various ways that a free, unconquered country could not brook.

The right of appeal from Scottish to English Courts was insisted on. The weak Baliol was summoned to London to justify certain proceedings, and actually stood at the Bar of the Parliament House. Scottish barons, too, were summoned to Edward's standard in his French war, and it is not altogether surprising that the group of nobles which in fact governed Scotland, now made an offensive and defensive treaty with France, a virtual commencement of the alliance with that country which for three centuries so harassed England. The Scots had already invaded England, so in the spring of 1296 Edward descended upon Scotland with 30,000 foot, 4000 horse, and a fleet. He made a beginning with Berwick, which was left to the sole defence of its garrison and unfortunate citizens. It was said that these foolish people sent taunting messages to this all-powerful warrior, and so helped that short and bloody work which was made of them. For eight thousand of them were slaughtered, and the mill wheels of the town could have been turned, says an old chronicle, by the torrents of blood. In the Red Hall which stood in the Wool Market thirty Flemish merchants defended themselves with great and sustained valour till they were burned alive in the ruins. The castle was soon afterwards surrendered, but its garrison was spared. New fortifications, which are still conspicuous, were at once commenced, the vigorous King, now nearly sixty years of age, tradition has it, wheeling a barrow himself. The ancient glory of Berwick sank amid the cataclysm to rise no more. It remained a place of trade and of the first military importance, but no longer an abode of merchant princes and the delight of convivial monarchs.

We need not follow Edward on his victorious march round Scotland, nor yet on his subsequent invasions, which in reducing that distracted kingdom to submission bred within it the patriotism and union that under Edward's weakling son shook off the foreign yoke at Bannockburn and founded a nation. It may be mentioned that the English host marched from Berwick to that fatal field, and that while in the possession of Robert Bruce's people the town had to stand a determined though unsuccessful attack at the hands of a large army under Edward II., burning to avenge his late disaster. Soon after this Berwick witnessed the marriage of Bruce's son to Edward's daughter, which was to end all blood-letting. But it made little difference till, in 1328, the vassalage claim over Scotland was formally abandoned.

Edward III., however, provoked by the renewed turbulence in the north, began the whole business over again, and proved as great a scourge for a time to Scotland as his grandfather had been, without that prospect of union which had half justified his grandfather's policy. For if the Scots were not strong enough to withstand his armies in great shocks, they had now the memory of Bruce and Wallace to inspire them with patriotic ardour and give them sufficient determination to make their country impossible to coerce. Years of fruitless strife followed, though one must always try to remember that the barons of the feudal period in both countries existed primarily for war. Both they and no doubt a very large number of their following thoroughly enjoyed it. Without it for any length of time they must have been hopelessly bored, and, worse still, lost some measure of cunning in the one art by which they held their possessions and their status in the eyes of their peers. Their form of hunting carrying no element of danger either in the pursuit or in the capture of their quarry, though interesting no doubt from a hound or hawk point of view, could never have been a substitute, but merely a gentle interlude to these sons of war. The tourney was much more like the real thing, of course. Indeed it must have been rather an appetiser than an alternative. Edward III. (luring a brief truce held a famous one at Berwick, when twelve Scottish and as many English knights were pitted against each other. From the chronicler Wyntoun's account of it, the percentage of mortality was about that of a severe modern battle.

But the third Edward did no outward damage to Berwick. On the contrary, he did much work on the fortifications. He also won the great battle of Halidon hill, just outside the town, and revenged Bannockburn in a mere military sense. But the influence of Bannockburn lived on, while Halidon mattered little beyond the slaughter and the personal triumph. The King, however, who concerned himself much with the wool trade of the country, harassed that of Berwick so constantly with vexatious burdens that any tendency towards recovering its ancient prosperity was effectually scotched. But it remained a great military base, and was now again English soil. This was the era of the Percies, who succeeded one another as Governors of Berwick and Wardens of the March. It was also in this same sense the era of the Douglases, who became, as every schoolboy knows, their rivals to the north of Tweed. When royal hosts were not actually upon the war-path, these two great houses' kept things lively with their own martial exuberance, while the strife that surged backwards and forwards within touch of I3erwvick through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries made ulp the sanguinary tale. To tabulate the men of might who performed deeds of daring at Berwick or laid about them in its blood-stained neighbourhood would be merely to summarise English and Scottish history to no good purpose. For every one who was anybody was here at one time or another till the union of the crowns, and I shall likewise forbear any further precision as regards the thirteen separate occasions on which the town has been handed over from one nation to the other. It will be enough here that at the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1482 the last transfer was made, this time to the English by the Scots, who had held it for thirty years, and English it has ever since remained.

From the top of Berwick town, looking up the lower reach of Tweed with a cast to the southward, you can readily mark, some dozen miles away, the fir-crested ridge of Flodden ; its six hundred feet or so of stature belittled rather from this point of view by the majestic masses of the Cheviots that rise in the immediate rear. The guns of Flodden were probably heard on Berwick ramparts, and of a surety even Berwick, satiated as she must have been with drum and trumpet, had been then long at ease, and may well have felt during those thirty days that the time of the Edwards had returned. For those of the Tudors were, or should have been, far humaner ones, and on the face of it this rousing of all Scotland to raid England on a trifling pretext when Henry VIII. and his chief forces were in France must always seem a flagrantly wanton business, almost, indeed, meriting its terrible recoil. Berwick had no direct concern with Flodden, save for despatching a few men there and receiving afterwards a division of the victorious army bearing the body of the Scottish King.

It had not been very Iong since the town had witnessed the effusive display and enthusiasm which accompanied the northward journey of Margaret, the sister of Henry VIII., to marry the ill-fated monarch. But. Berwick had a great deal to do with the ferocious onslaughts on Scotland made by Henry- in his later days through the agency of Lord Hertford. The King's instructions were of a ruthless kind, that would have almost made William the Conqueror or even John blush to indite, and in the course of two expeditions, in which Berwick was, as usual, a base, they were in great part carried out from the Tweed to the Forth. "Thanks be to God," reported Hertford, "there is not one peel, gentleman's house, nor grange we have not destroyed."

After Henry's death, during the ascendancy of Hertford, otherwise the Protector Somerset, and right on into the first years of Elizabeth's reign, Berwick was the •itch-dog of armed truces or the base of active conflict between the nations. It was then, after large sums had been spent at various times on the old fortifications, which were constantly displaying some fresh weaknesses before the growing force of artillery, that Queen EIizabeth, who in person or by inspiration was always happy in bringing the best talent to the aid of public works, made Berwick one of the finest models of defensive science in Europe. And there are the works to-day, almost as perfect in all essentials as the engineers left them, a spectacle unique in England, and rare anywhere. One feels tempted to recall Berwick as lying rather within these ramparts, than to describe the ramparts as surrounding Berwick, so great a factor are they in any survey of the place. There is a touch of irony in the reflection that after Berwick had been hammered through the centuries and bathed periodically in seas of blood, no hostile shot, so far as I know, was ever fired against these tremendous works, which were raised as much against the foreigner as against the Scot, the traditional Franco-Scottish entente being naturally in the mind of the builders. Completed in 1565, the next generation were to see Scotland and England united under one crown and international conflict cease, and with it the French danger at this point of the island. In the days of Elizabeth and the distractions of Scotland in those of the hapless Mary Stuart, the Borderers on both sides indulged in a perfect orgy of faction fights, and the two Governments were concerned more with their own police work than in quarrels with one another. Berwick, now one of the three best fortified places in Europe, had no longer any fear of Border raids, while it made an admirable police headquarters for several thousand men. Lord Hunsdon, the Queen's "dear cousin," is a name inseparably connected with Berwick through this stormy period as ,grand policeman-in-chief, and it is small wonder, as a contemporary remarks, that this strenuous official lost all taste for field sports in the greater excitement of hunting and hanging the rievers of Ettrick and Jedburgh, and the dales of Rede and Tyne.

Happily a few sections of the old blood-drenched Edwardian walls, though mainly as grass-grown mounds, still survive. For Berwick had shrunk no little by the Tudor period, and the new lines were for the most part drawn considerably within the old defences. From the water tower, still in part surviving on the river bank above the town and just outside it, the Edwardian outer wall at a yet fair elevation climbs the steep grassy hillside to the railway station that covers the castle site. Away up at the high back of the town towards Scotland are grass-grown remains of the old wall, for the repairs of which so many successive kings and governors laid taxes on the sea-board trade and personal labour of the long-suffering townsfolk. To work out in detail the lines of either of these or of the Tudor fortifications is not our business here, and it has been admirably done in handy form by local experts. But I must not pass over the Octagonal Bell Tower which still, amid the suggestive grassy humps of turf-clad masonry, and with some dignity of isolation, looks northward towards Scotland and eastwards over the North Sea. The casual visitor will probably be told by the uncritical local patriot, that this is the actual belfry that gave warning of the first glint of Scottish spears in the days of Bruce or the Black Douglas. Unfortunately this is barely half the truth, for this one here is a second edition, erected by the Tudor engineers of the later works upon the foundations of the old round tower which actually heralded these scenes of blood.

The old mediaeval wall at Berwick, as elsewhere, was a plain curtain, punctuated at regular intervals with towers. Those who have seen Conway will have gathered the best idea of what a mediieval walled town looked like, for to-day it is still quite perfect, and it might be a picture out of Froissart. The sudden jump from this to the new methods which Italian engineers introduced to keel) pace with improved artillery is amazing. Lucca, Verona, and Antwerp were the three first towns in Europe to adopt it, and Berwick here was the fourth. For tolerably obvious reasons, Berwick is now left as the sole example to the curious in such matters of a famous era in military history. Yet to the chance stranger, who between trains should find himself promenading for a mile or more over smooth walks laid upon these tremendous high-perched ramparts, they would assuredly suggest some relic of the great Napoleon, of scarce a century ago, rather than the precautions of a Tudor monarch. For here are not walls in the ordinary sense, but huge earthworks with a perpendicular front of masonry some twenty to thirty feet high and nearly half as thick, the outer face being well laid with dressed and mortared stone. At regular intervals in this massive curtain are projecting bastions of equal or greater height provided with "flankers" and reached by long subways arched in by brick or stone.

The platforms and stairways are all in good preservation, and the arrangements for enfilading the curtain walls complete. This more immediately applies to the two higher sides of the irregular square which the works describe around the town, those facing the north and east. The other sides rest chiefly upon the river. A nobler and more suggestive promenade has no town in Britain than that round Berwick walls, nor are they disfigured or obscured by outlying slums or suburbs, but for the most part plant their feet cleanly upon pleasant meadows, while the town behind presses close up to their shelter and helps to complete the effect as of an ancient place of arms. Much of the stone for the Tudor fortifications was taken from the old walls, the rest was limestone from the adjoining seashore. This all sounds very nice and easy, but the great Eliza was a deplorable paymaster. Poor Rowland Johnson, who was overseer to all these works for twenty years, ultimately died of his efforts to wring adequate remuneration out of her for his labours. Hunsdon, the famous Governor who represented the Queen here for thirty years, and was a great favourite with her, had many a weary time, and cut grim jokes on the parsimony of his royal" cousin, "protesting that while the grass grows the steed starves," and that he was "fed on pap made from the yolk of an owl's egg." These dark sayings were the result of a letter from the Queen when the money for expenses was long overdue, which began, "I doubt not, my Harry, whether that the victory (which occasioned the expense) more joyed me, or that you were by God appointed the instrument of my glory . . . but that you may not think that you have done nothing for your people, I intend to make the journey somewhat to increase your livelihood, that you may say to yourself, 'Perditum quod factum est ingrato.' "We know, however, that Hunsdon said nothing of the kind, but, on the contrary, made use of altogether different expressions, and those, too, in the vulgar tongue. Elizabeth kept very sharp eyes, though, on Berwick, and seems even to have grudged her harassed deputies an occasional holiday in some haven where the Borderer and the creditor ceased from troubling and the north-east winds were at rest. For while absent on one of these well-earned jaunts Hunsdon's son writes him in a hurry from London that the Queen, while playing cards in the presence-chamber, called him to her and asked when his father was returning to Berwick, upon which he informed her that the Governor intended to get back soon after Whitsuntide, that day being already the eighth of June, "Whereat she flew into a great rage, beginning with 'God's wounds' (we are not told what this great adept at forcible language ended up with), and that she would 'set you by the feet, and send another in your place."

Numbers of illustrious Scots, including Knox and other divines who occasionally found it a handy refuge from ecclesiastical opponents who could split hairs as truculently as themselves, or from sons of Belial, bishops, and such like, paid friendly visits to Berwick about this time, and walked upon the new fortifications, to their great amazement and edification. For us to-day, curious and interesting in detail as are the works upon which this noblest of civic promenades is laid, the pulse is stirred more quickly perhaps by the opportunity they give you of grasping at a glance, and feeling to your marrow, if you have got any feeling, the full spirit and significance of the spot. For beside you, under the clear, unsullied canopy of the summer sky, lies this quiet market town enclosed within virtually the same embattled bounds, planted upon the same streets and wynds, as in the long past, when for centuries it knew no rest, and was the cockpit of the nations. Below, Tweed sweeps along the gathered tribute of a thousand mountain streams into the open sea as a noble salmon river should, the life of its mountain-born waters not yet extinguished by its brief tidal course, and battling gallantly with the salt waves about the narrow harbour bar. Away beyond Tweedmouth and Spittal, not, it must be admitted, worthy vis-a-vis of Berwick, the coast of Northumberland forges away to the long sandy flats of Holy Island with its solitary castle-crowned crag, and further yet to the dim uplifted mass of Baznburgh, the ancient capital of Northumbria, the rock fortress of "the Flamebearer" marking the limit of our southern outlook.

All the world that reads English—all such part of it, at least, that has been properly nurtured in its mother tongue—will expect the Cheviots to be in evidence from Berwick walls. And so, of course, they are, massing conspicuous upon the sky-line and carrying southwestward along their lonely crests the border-line between the kingdoms that Tweed has carried to their foothills. We have had enough for the present of battles, or it would be easy enough to pick over the country, spreading its broad Northumbrian fields and spacious Northumbrian landscape from Berwick to the Cheviots, and fill a chapter with the battles and sieges and forays that its landmarks call to mind. Indeed I have already done so in another place, (The Romance of Northumberland.) and we are this time in the way of setting our faces northward.

There is no great store of ancient buildings in Berwick. Every vestige of the religious houses has vanished. In the upper part of the town there are some noteworthy open spaces known as "Greens," while the barracks, just two centuries old, were the first erected in the kingdom. The evils of billeting in a place so heavily and constantly garrisoned with all sorts of troops had been sorely felt. The men, too, under this system were out of control at night, and preyed remorselessly on the inhabitants. "The innkeepers," says a correspondent of that time, "could stand it no longer, and were all giving up their houses, and reputable persons who had been well-to-do were now reduced to begging their bread, from the continued exactions of their gallant defenders." In the lower quarters of the town there are some quaint wynds and corners of stern and sombre aspect, interesting from the fact that they are more or less interwoven with the town wall. The latter by the river-side follows the old Edwardian lines, while the unpretentious wharves where Berwick's fishing fleet forgather and her limited sea-borne trade is conducted, contribute a harmonious feature to this characteristic quarter of the town. Just here, too, is the picturesque old bridge of fifteen arches and nearly 400 yards in length. It was built in the reign of James I., and as everything in Berwick has the distinction of being unconventional, the first nine arches are all of different span. Yet more, the structure itself is, and always has been, the property of the Crown, not of the town or county, an annual subsidy being granted for its upkeep, and thereby placing another singularity to the credit of Berwick. It took a dozen years in the building, carried on out of funds from the Crown Treasury. For when partially completed the work was demolished by the violence of a flood which hurled the old wooden bridge, then still in use above it, against the half-finished work with disastrous effect. Several arches of Berwick Bridge were not so very long ago in the county of Durham, as if the status of Berwick itself were not sufficiently confusing to the uninitiated without allotting half its bridge to the next county but one, which, as a matter of fact, possessed at that time a strip along the Tweed. But Berwick is nothing if not original. The Northumbrian "borh" runs up to the Tweed, the lowland Doric runs down to it; and it is idle to pretend that the average native does not speak one or other of these kindred tongues. But apart front this, I am assured by a friend who is a native of Berwick, an etymologist, and expert in northern vernaculars, that the town has a distinct dialect of its own, used by the common folk bred within the walls. As he can illustrate it admirably himself, this turned my attention to the street-corner original, which in a few odd weeks' sojourn, with the ordinary varieties of Border dialect prevailing, one would fail to notice. The peculiar vernacular of the little Palatinate has sounds and notes in it utterly alien to the districts on either side, such as "hutehar" and "doetar" with a mute r. My friend is of the opinion that southern regiments quartered here for protracted periods may have produced this hybrid but fixed speech among a certain class.

In recalling the extraordinary vicissitudes of Berwick, particularly that abrupt descent under Edward's devastations from a great commercial seaport to a merely garrison town of great importance, and then its collapse, after the union of the Crowns, to a purely provincial town, one is speaking, of course, from a national point of view. For in the eighteenth century Berwick had all the social attributes of a county capital, though it was not one technically. There was a Iarge garrison, and a considerable residential element in the usually accepted sense of the word. Lairds and squires, too, from both sides of the river, dined and drank and danced there. Its glory in this sense has now long departed, Iike the glory of other provincial towns. Nor has it caught the fancy of the modern rentier, nor even to an appreciable extent of the summer visitor. Spittal, a sort of extension of Tweedmouth at the mouth of the river, faces the open sea, with a Iong grey terrace of lodging-houses, their depressing architectural aspect redeemed, no doubt, in the eyes of their patrons by the pleasant strip of sand on to which their uncompromising portals give immediate access. The high ground south of Tweedmouth, on which of yore so many invading hosts pitched their tents, seems to be always casting sombre shadows over Spittal, and accentuates the unmirthful complexion with which it appears to confront the unalleviated rage of the north and east winds. This exposure perhaps constitutes its very merit in the August season, for babes and sucklings are, I believe, despatched hither in force from the humid, smoky cities of western Scotland to roll on the sand under the strong breath of the North Sea, while their guardians find mild excitement in watching the salmon nets which thrice a day, for two or three hours at a time, empty their stores on to Spittal sands.

Berwick also his its summer following, who occupy its rather Iimited and unenterprising accommodation, bathe in the rocky coves, play golf of a happy-go-lucky domestic nature, cricket or bowls on the broad green ledge between the eastern ramparts and the cliff edge, or pace the long stone pier where also the salmon fishers ply their task. But in these days, when almost every place outside a city, irrespective of any visible attractions, harbours the summer visitor to the extent, and often to more than the extent, of its boor ability, the patrons of Berwick cannot be called a numerous company, and make no pretension to be a. fashionable one. Yet the air is splendid for those who like to be braced, and the whole atmosphere is clean and sweet. The town in a human sense has always the sufficiently cheerful stir of a, big provincial mart and even a little more in the summer season, for those who find comfort in such things rather than in the ever-abiding atmosphere of an illustrious past that is written all over it. To the south Holy Island, Bamburgh, and the fine golf links at Goswick are all virtually within sight. To the westward a line of railway follows the Tweed to Norham, Coldstream, the Flodden country, Kelso, and the land of Scott. Northward the rockbound coast of Berwickshire pursues its rugged course of cliff and cove to the sublime and lofty solitudes of St. Abb's and beyond.

But the status of Berwick as a watering-place is of small relevance to our subject. It is more worth noting how few Southerners of the thousands who fly northward every summer think it worth while to have a look at it. After all, the average mortal cares mighty little about the past. It conveys almost nothing to him, and he submits only to such monuments of it that have been conspicuously labelled, and that he cannot with decency ignore. Berwick has not been thus labelled, and if you told a friend you were going there, he would almost certainly think that you were off to North Berwick (in East Lothian) to play golf. That, at least, has been my own experience. I have been a good deal in Berwick at one time and another, and have sometimes been fortunate in the companionship of Commander Norman, R.N., who is chairman of the Berwick Historical Monuments Committee, that has clone so much for the ancient town. As it is not possible to deal here with the technicalities of the fortifications, Edwardian or Tudor, it may be well to state that this zealous antiquary has embodied his intimate knowledge of them with illuminating brevity in a pamphlet that may be acquired at any local bookshop. During a recent sojourn in Berwick an episode occurred in connection with the walls, that provided a more humorous aftermath than might be expected of anything so serious as excavations. In digging the foundations for a new house near the Edwardian walls, a stone coffin was unearthed bearing the significant letters E.I. Deeply graven as is the memory of Edward I. in a town whose population he almost destroyed within twenty-four hours and in cold blood, we all know that he met his fate upon the Western March, and was buried, as is credibly recorded, at Westminster. But the magic letters were too much for some enthusiasts, too potent even for accepted facts, and quite a sharp controversy raged. When this was at its height a young man came forward and deposed before a magistrate that he had carved the letters himself a few days previously. Whether he had idly traced his sweetheart's initials or had sufficient history to attempt a practical joke on the sages of Berwick, though the sages themselves scoffed at the theory, I do not remember. But the opposite party threw discredit on the declaration of the frolicsome joker till one or two others came forward and solemnly deposed that they had seen him do it. Thus ended a nine days' wonder which through the daily Press raised a laugh on every breakfast table from Newcastle to Edinburgh, and was borne by the local weekly to the lonely haunts of Lammermoor and Cheviot shepherds, to their great delight as I discovered later. For hill shepherds are generally antiquaries of a sort. Indeed they live and move among the tracks and lines of the dead, and cannot help themselves besides, they are men of mind and character.

The salmon has, of course, always stood by Berwick through good and evil times alike. The little fishing-cobbles, with their broad flat sterns and cocked-up bows, are to-day a feature of the river the whole way up to Norham. to-day Many of the net fishings in the lower reaches of the Tweed are the property of, or are rented by a company who have a large number of fishermen in their employment. So the fat and lean periods which are so associated with this hardy race under ordinary conditions are in this case the lot of the stockholders, who, no doubt, can face the worst. As a matter of fact, I believe the company pays a pretty regular dividend, ranging front five to fifteen per cent., a situation which has a painfully prosaic ring when associated with that noble denizen of a romantic river, the Tweed salmon.

The Tweed is administered by a Board of Commissioners, whose rights extend for five miles out. to sea, and thirty miles north and south, within which area of 150 square miles, with the exception of about ten or a dozen fishing stations on the shore, no one is allowed to fish for salmon at any time of the year, by any method of capture—a restriction, I believe, no little grumbled at by the sea-goers, and not always regarded.

The herring fishing and its accessory industries, such as curing, is of importance to Berwick, as it is to every other place along this coast, and the red-sailed smacks crossing the bar to swell the volume of their fellows that in the early autumn fleck the North Sea, is a characteristic feature of the river life.

Nor would Berwick be Berwick without its Freemen, though there are impious wights who declare it would be better without them, or a good many of them. For the old town owns a slice of the landed property around it —thanks in great part to the exuberant good nature at a propitious moment of James I.—carrying a rental value of some thousands a year. A substantial portion of this is divided annually among the Freemen of Berwick, of whom, however, there are so many that the individual incomes derived therefrom are not large enough to benefit the reasonably prosperous, but just sufficient to tempt the lowly to loaf. There is an ancient school, too, where the Freeman received, if he desired, gratuitous teaching ; but in these days of free compulsory education, to say nothing of free meals provided by the much-enduring tax-payer, the Freeman's school, is not, I believe, in very great demand. These privileges, such as they be, besides, of course, the historic flavour attaching to them, which probably very few of the beneficiaries feel, are matters of inheritance, (All sons become Freemen as soon as they are of ago and choose to go through the ceremony and—needless to say—pay the fee.) the eldest son being automatically a Freeman, and the others becoming so by a nominal payment. The honour, as in similar endowments, can also he purchased, }nit not on such terms as to attract the outsider. 'Those who are capable of taking a pride in being a Freeman of Berwick, which I should certainly do if I were one, are doubtless of the type to whom the emoluments are of small account. But nevertheless it is an interesting and picturesque survival of what was a matter of great moment in former days. Many persons, again, were made Freemen for services rendered to the town; some being thus favoured to whom the town owed money that it could not pay. Illustrious persons, too—dukes, field-marshals, and such like—of national fame have been placed on the list, not so much because Berwick honoured them, as that they honoured Berwick, and were assuredly not likely to claim their share of the soil or its spoils or to demand a free education for their offspring at the Freemen's Academy. My critics have sometimes been kind enough to say that in historical philanderings I know when to stop and to anticipate the yawn provoked by satiety. I trust that I have not forfeited their good opinion in this chapter. I am perfectly certain, on the other hand, that some Berwickians will protest that my sins of omission are unpardonable. Not a word, for instance, has been said of the Countess of Buchan, who was kept in a cage in the castle for four years for putting the crown on the head of Robert Bruce, or of the frequent sojourns here of Cromwell and of Charles I. and of the hanging of "Seton's sons." But I have long hardened my heart in this sense to the local patriot to whom the forbearance of the general reader is neither here nor there. Perhaps I know him better—the reader, I mean. If I did not, I feel sure the publishers and I would long ago have parted company.


Return to Book Index Page



Popular Pages



More Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page