A portion of the curtain wall and a couple of surviving towers from a once great border fortress. Also visible, but not accessible, are ‘Breakneck Stairs’ that enabled access from the castle to the jetty. The extensive Berwick Town Walls are nearby.
Berwick Castle Layout. The castle had no central Keep and its non-conformist shape was dictated by the terrain on which it was built. The West Gun Tower was built during the Tudor era to house artillery.
1. Following his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), forces for Robert the Bruce besieged Berwick and successful captured the castle in April 1318. Edward II attempted to re-capture the town but his attempts to undermine the walls were defeated by the machinations of John Crabbe, a Flemish pirate who was in the employ 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
2. Berwick Castle was briefly held by George Home, Earl of Dunbar in the early seventeenth century. He also owned Fast Castle in the Scottish Borders.
3. Berwick Castle was similar in style and configuration to Dirleton Castle.
Notes: Accessed via the River-side walk. Extensive car parking available in the Town centre.
23 Railway St, TD15 1NF
Car Park (Town)
Water Tower, White Wall and Breakneck Stairs. The White Wall was built by Edward I to provide secure harbour facilities (comparable to his contemporary Welsh fortresses). The Water Tower were built during the Tudor era to house artillery.
Breakneck Stairs. The stairs behind the White Wall.
A strong border fortress built by a Scottish King and refined by the English, Berwick Castle changed hands between the two countries on multiple occasions. Edward I declared his support for John Balliol here in 1292 and four years later took the submission of Scottish nobles in the Great Hall following his victory over his vassal King.
HISTORY OF BERWICK CASTLE
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 seemingly existed there as a reference records the incarceration of a prisoner there in 1160 at the command of Malcolm IV. It was clearly a substantial structure for the castle, along with the town, passed to the English in 1175 by 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 the Alexander III's only heir, Margaret, in 1290. An extensive inventory was taken at this time 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 announced his verdict on the Scottish succession – in favour of John Balliol - on 17 November 1292 within the Great Hall. But within a few years of being anointed King of Scotland, the First War of Scottish Independence had begun. In 1296 Edward besieged and took Berwick Castle and shortly after English forces defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar. The Great Hall at Berwick once again hosted Edward I as he chose it as the site whereby the defeated Scottish nobles 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 Tweed 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 Defences at this time.
In 1297 the Scottish rebelled under the leadership of William Wallace. He had initially 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 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 1315-18 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. An attempt by Edward II to retake the castle failed miserably.
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 stormed by English the same year. The town and castle were both attacked again in 1384 by Scottish raiders who were eventually brought 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 as was the Water Tower along the length of the White Wall. However by this time the castle itself was seemingly ruinous and when extensive upgrades were made 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) company when in 1844 they were founded and commenced building their first railway line between Edinburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed. 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.