At the north end of Berwick are two parks dating from the 1930s. They lie either side of the East Coast Main Line; to the east, Castle Vale Park; to the west, Coronation Park.
They used to be enjoyed be many people but over recent years have become a little “tired”. Luckily a local residents group is working with Berwick Town Council and Northumberland County Council to bring new life to the parks. Part of the £900,000 Heritage Lottery Fund scheme is to interpret the history that lies within the parks.
Castle Vale Park
Castle Vale Park was formed from 1.75 acres of land given to Berwick Corporation by Mr John Cairns of Tweed House in June 1928. The development of the park cost some £1800 and was financed by a grant from the new Government Unemployment Grants Committee and a bequest from one Charles Little.
In 1929, the corporation considered seeking the advice of an official from Scarborough Corporation, “who had wide experience of laying out similar spaces”. It was however, resolved to ask Mr Cairns if his gardener could do the job instead. Much planting and hedging was carried out in the summer of 1931. Work may well have been ongoing and in 1934, railings and a gate at Railway Street entrance were added. It was also noted in the Corporation minutes that Castle Vale had changed its name to Castle Dene, “but cannot find out why or when”.
Other additions were made in subsequent years such as a sundial (1938) and in 1944 tenders were sought for the provision of a bird bath at the Lily Ponds. Due to wartime restrictions on buildings materials, no firms were willing to quote!
A letter to the Berwick Journal in 1931 comments:
“Some time has passed since Castle Vale Park was opened to the public and I should have thought that the Corporation would have now decided upon a special opening ceremony. I understood some time ago that there was to be an official ceremony. The park is now one of Berwick’s beauty spots and it has been greatly admired by visitors. I must say that it is particularly well kept and it is a credit to the workmen who have been engaged upon it.”
Before the park was created, this area was open field through which the stream from the Tappee Pond flowed before coursing to the north of the castle. The boundary wall that divides the park from railway property drops downhill steeply before rising up to the castle, defining the original contour of the gully dividing Castle Hill from the surrounding land before being filled in by the railway.
The wall that divides Tommy the Miller’s field and Coronation Park is not new as such. A wall on a similar line in mentioned in a 1538 survey of the castle and is shown in a drawing from 1790.
At the top of the park is the site of Gallows Knowe. It may have been here that Sir Alexander Seton’s son, Thomas, was hanged when a hostage by Edward III during the siege of Berwick in 1333. This was the site of public executions in Berwick, the last being Grace Griffin in 1823.
On 10th December, 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated. This was extremely inconvenient as the Corporation were well on their way for a programme of tree planting to mark the King’s coronation.
Various places in Berwick and Tweedmouth were to be planted. North road, Bank Hill and Tommy the Miller’s field are all suggested. On the 16th December that year, a letter from the solicitors to the owner of the field, Mr Askew-Robertson is received by the Borough Surveyor. Mr Askew- Robertson has no objection to trees being planted either side of the path leading through the lower part of the field but warns:
“…it is a wind-swept field, and there will be every chance of boys breaking the branches off, and it will, of course, be essential to have each tree protected by a wire guard, or fenced round, to prevent stock in the field from damaging the trees…”
Despite the abdication, plans proceeded and Coronation Park was created, presumably in time for George VI’s coronation 12th May 1937, originally the date for Edward’s coronation.