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Berwick Castle was built by David I of Scotland but, alongside the town, it regularly changed hands between the English and Scots. In 1292 Edward I declared his verdict on the Scottish succession within the castle's Great Hall. Much of the fortification was destroyed by the construction of the railway in the nineteenth century.
Berwick Castle, which is situated on a rocky outcrop towering over the River Tweed, was built by David I of Scotland no later than 1127 when records show he imported timber for work on the structure. By 1160 a substantial fortress existed there and it was used for the incarceration of a prisoner at the command of Malcolm IV. The castle, along with the town, passed to the English in 1175 under the terms of the Treaty of Falaise that secured the release of the captured Scottish King, William the Lion, following his defeat the previous year at the Second Battle of Alnwick (1174). It is possible some modifications were made by Henry but, on this occasion, English ownership was short; Berwick was sold back to the Scots by Richard the Lionheart to help fund the Third Crusade.
A full account of the castle was made in 1292 by Sir John Potthow on behalf of Edward I. The English King had been given control of Berwick, along with other Royal castles in Scotland, when he had been asked to arbitrate on the Scottish succession following the death of Alexander III's only heir, Margaret, in 1290. An extensive inventory was taken that suggested the castle was an enclosure fortification with no central Keep. Instead it had a large twin-towered Donjon (Gatehouse) giving access to the town via the Douglas Tower (later known as the Percy Tower). Within the enclosure, which was protected by multiple turrets along the curtain wall, was a Great Hall, Chapel and various service buildings.
Edward I announced his verdict on the Scottish succession – in favour of John Balliol - on 17 November 1292 within the Great Hall. However, within a few years of being anointed King of Scotland, John defied Edward prompting the First War of Scottish Independence. In 1296 Edward I seized Berwick Castle and shortly after English forces defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar (1296). The Great Hall at Berwick Castle was used by Edward I as the venue where he received the defeated Scottish nobles so they could pay homage to him. Upgrades were made to the castle at this time including construction of a Water Gate and extension of the curtain wall down to the banks of the River Tweed. Known today as the White Wall, it originally projected into the river providing a secure jetty for landing supplies at the castle. In addition the castle seems to have had small postern accesses in both the South and West walls. Extensive upgrades were also made to Berwick Town Walls at this time.
In 1297 the Scottish rebelled under the leadership of William Wallace. He had initial success at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) and the same year mounted an attack on Berwick. The town fell to his forces but the castle held out and when a Royal army arrived the following year, Wallace and his forces withdrew. The army, under the command of Edward I himself, pursued the Scots and defeated them at the Battle of Falkirk (1298).
In 1306 Robert the Bruce rebelled against Edward I and was crowned King of Scotland. The English King once again mustered his forces but the campaign petered out when he died whilst camped waiting to cross the Solway. His son, Edward II, lacked his father's military credentials allowing Robert to systematically reduce English garrisons in Scotland - by 1314 only Stirling and Berwick held out. After the crushing English defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), Robert took the war into the north of England. Attempts were made between 1315 and 1318 to besiege the town and it eventually fell in April 1318 when the Governor betrayed the town to the Scots. Lacking provisions, the castle surrendered six days later. Edward II attempted to re-capture the site but his attempts to undermine the walls were defeated by the machinations of John Crabbe, a Flemish pirate who was in the employment of the Scottish King. He devised a stone dropping device that crushed the sow, a reinforced wooden shelter that the English miners were using to protect them whilst they worked under the enemy walls. John Crabbe was later captured by the English prompting him to switch sides and in 1333 aided Edward III's capture of the castle and town.
The First War of Scottish Independence came to an end in 1328 but Edward III - once freed from the influence of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March – resumed hostilities in 1332. He besieged Berwick in 1333 and, after the English victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill, took control of the town and castle. English interest soon shifted to France and the Hundred Years War but the Second War of Scottish Independence rumbled on. A surprise Scottish attack re-captured Berwick in 1355 but, when faced with an advancing English army, withdrew the following year. In 1357 the war formally came to an end with the Treaty of Berwick but border disputes continued. The castle was captured by seven Scotsmen in 1377 but was retaken by English the same year. The town and castle were both attacked again in 1384 by Scottish raiders who were eventually bought off for 2,000 marks. The castle was ceded to the Scots in 1461 by Queen Margaret of Anjou in exchange for support for the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses. However, in 1482, it was re-taken for England by Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
During the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII modifications were made to the castle. An artillery turret was added to the Western curtain wall and the Water Tower was built along with an extension to the White Wall. However, by this time the castle itself was seemingly ruinous and when extensive upgrades were made to Berwick Town Walls in the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I, the castle was left out of the defensive plans.
In 1603 James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne as James I of England. Berwick Castle became surplus and was sold to George Home, Earl of Dunbar. He commenced a conversion of the castle into a palatial residence but work ceased on his death in 1611. Stone was robbed from the structure to support the building of Holy Trinity Church in 1650 and the castle was left to decay. What was left by the mid-nineteenth century was destroyed by North British Railway (NBR) who commenced construction of the Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed railway line in 1844. The Great Hall, where Edward I had taken the submissions of the Scottish magnates following the Battle of Dunbar (1296), and the internal buildings of the Medieval Castle were demolished to make space for the Railway Station and a Goods Yard. Further damage was done to the remaining structure in July 1850 when the NBR's network was connected to the Newcastle line by a viaduct, the Royal Border Bridge, that linked the railway south of the Tweed with the Berwick station and line. The site remains occupied by Network Rail.
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Berwick Castle has been badly damaged by the construction of the railway which runs straight through the site. A portion of the curtain wall and a couple of towers survive as do Breakneck Stairs which once provided access from castle to its jetty. The extensive Berwick Town Walls are nearby.
Berwick Castle Layout. The castle was an enclosure fortification and thus had no central Keep. Its irregular layout was dictated by the terrain on which it was built. It is similar in style to Dirleton Castle. The West Gun Tower was built during the Tudor era to house artillery.
Berwick Castle. The railway cuts straight through the castle site meaning the interior, including the Great Hall, has been destroyed.
Water Tower. Built by Henry VIII in the 1540s.
White Wall and Breakneck Stairs. The White Wall was built by Edward I to provide secure harbour facilities (comparable to his contemporary Welsh fortresses).
Railway. The railway station occupies the site of the Great Hall.
Castle Remains. Portions of the castle survive in the railway goods yard adjacent to the station.
Scarping. The castle's strong defensive position can be clearly appreciated from the adjacent public park.
Constable Tower. A portion of the eastern defences survive including Constable Tower.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is found just off the A1. There are extensive car parking facilities across the town with one option shown below.. Berwick Castle is accessed via the River-side walk.
Car Parking Option
23 Railway St, TD15 1NF