The Castle Hotel – A History

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Inspired by Graham Paul’s post of some photographs of Berwick I thought  I might revise a history of this well known hotel in the north of Berwick.  I cannot have been aware of the photo at the time but it is included here.

Site history

The Castle Hotel is named after its proximity to Berwick Castle.  The site has been important since the mediaeval period as Castlegate, then called Burghgate, was the main road to the Borders via what is now Castle Terrace.  

The St Mary Gate, a major entrance through the original mediaeval town walls (commenced by Edward I in 1296) was sited near the Northumberland Avenue junction.  The defensive importance of these walls declined after the Elizabethan ramparts were finished in 1570, but the site of the St Mary Gate remained important as the site of a toll house into the 19th century.  It seems likely that a hostelry was always situated near this site to cater for travellers glad to have reached the safety of the town.

On the 1839 map (below), we can see that the layout of the buildings on the site of the Castle Hotel (outlined, red) is different to that of today.  

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Detail from NBR map 1839 showing the site of the hotel.

Description

The buildings of today first appear on an Ordnance Suvey map dated 1923.  The external style of the buildings is influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement (c.1880 – 1910).  The practitioners of this style railed against the mechanisation of production of the Industrial Revolution and yearned for what was seen as the “honesty“ of objects, etc from the mediaeval period.  They believed that there was beauty in the way something was built and that that should not be hidden.  Hence the most obvious features of the building.  The exposed vertical “mock-Tudor” timber beams on the upper floor of the hotel are very common in buildings of this period.  This can be seen in any number of houses around the country built in the new affluent “suburbs”.  In Berwick this style can be seen along North Road and Northumberland Avenue,  These houses were built in the 1910s.  The turrets at the north corner of the building are the other mediaeval reference probably inspired by Berwick Castle.

In Walkergate, the Cobbled Yard (originally the Rose and Thistle) is another building built in a similar style; compare the windows of this building and the Castle.  A date stone informs us it was built in 1913.  The Old Hen and Chickens (now the Magna Tandoori) in Bridge Street is also of this period.

The interior of The Castle is heavily influenced by the Art Deco style.  Typically, Art Deco used strong geometric shapes and dates from the mid 1920s to the 1930s.  The rounded reception desk, door handles in the lounge bar are strongly influenced by Deco.  All this suggests the Castle Hotel was built in the 1910s but had an interior refit at some time in the 1920s or ‘30s.  It is tempting to suggest that this update might have coincided with the rebuilding of the railway station in the mid-1920s.  

Evidence

Records in Berwick Record office seem to confirm the above.  Directories of businesses exist from different years exist such that one can trace the existence and ownership ofbusinesses through the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A pub called the Cow and Calf is listed as being in Castlegate in 1820.  (The name is possibly a reference to Cow Hill and Calf Hill, small hills either side of North Road near Ava Lodge.)  The tenancy belonged to the Lumsden family.  This is probably the same property as what becomes The Castle Inn.  In 1843, the tenancy of The Cow and Calf is transferred from Margaret Lumsden to Alexander Falconer.  The Castle Inn is first mentioned four years later in 1847, the tenancy belonging to Alexander Falconer.  The Cow and Calf is never found again.  The reasonable conclusion is that the name of the pub has changed at the time of the transfer.

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Detail from OS 1852 map showing Castle Inn

The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1852 shows a similar layout of buildings to the 1839 map but as it is a much larger scale, clearly indicates The Castle Inn on the site of what is now the dining room.  Also of interest is the smithy on the site of the Castle Hotel lounge bar.

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Early photograph of the site.  The Castle Inn is on the left behind the horse and cart.  The Smithy is behind the advertising hoarding.
(Photo courtesy Graham Paul via Forgotten Berwick.)

The licensing records suggest that the Castle Inn was extended and elevated to the Castle Hotel in 1909.  In these books, each establishment has its own pages listing any new licencees, misdemeanors, etc.  The pages are headed “Castle Inn” but the word “Inn” has been neatly crossed out and “Hotel” added above.  The date “1909” has been written to the side.  This, together with the external style of the building, is compelling evidence for the date of the building as we know it.

The next edition of the Ordance survey is 1923 when the Castle Hotel appears as it exists today.  

An early photograph of the Castle Hotel was taken by John Wood of Coldingham.  This is part of a fascinating archive that was discovered by accident in 1983.image

Photograph from John Wood collection c. 1910.  Note the extra doorway to the right of the carts.

John Wood died in 1914 so the photo is from the first five years of the Hotel’s existence.  The old Castle Inn was somewhat redeveloped when the buildings were extended.  Where now is the dining room and its three sets of double windows, we can see one set of windows and beyond, a doorway.  The doorway appears to be under the far first floor window.  But in the 1852 map we can clearly see steps leading up to an entrance halfway along the building.  Above the door is an arch in the architectural moulding that appears to match that above the main entrance to the Hotel.  Later this entire ground floor face was rebuilt, removing the doorway and installing new windows with lower sills to match those in the new Hotel.  The detail of the present stonework is slightly different and the stone mouldings over the “Inn” doorway and window has been replaced by a concrete moulding running the length of this section.

In the Wood photograph, the Hotel has two entrances on the east (Castlegate) side.  This doorway, now blocked up, can still be seen.  On the west side of the hotel is another blocked up doorway.  This one however has a horizontal stone halfway up that appears to be a window sill.  The blocked doorways opposite each other suggest a possible earlier arrangement, as the west door would have opened to where the bar serving area is now.  There may have been a corridor through with openings to rooms either side or both doors opened into one room.  In the 1950s and ‘60s, where the pillar supports beams across the ceiling, a partition existed dividing the bar in two.  The northern part used to be a “men only” bar, the women being confined to the other area, served from a hatch at the side of the main bar. 

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Blocked up doorways on east side (left) and west side (right) showing inserted window sill.  

As was stated earlier, there are internal features that hint at Art Deco design.  These features may have been installed in 1925 when ownership of the Hotel changed with the takeover of the Border Brewery by Berwick brewery (Silver Street) or when the Berwick Brewery was in turn bought by Vaux in 1934.  Among them are the fireplaces in the bar.  It has been stated that the fireplaces are not original to the bar and were bought in at a later stage.  Whether this is true or not, they are linked and are, I believe, from the Art Deco period.  They appear to be made from concrete using a process called wet concrete carving, whereby the concrete is cast in a form and then while almost hard is carved.  This method was very popular during the 1920s and ’30s but went out of fashion after the war.  While ostensibly of different styles, there are matching features such as the top steps which appear to be of the same size.  The carvings are by the same artist or works; a horseshoe makers mark can be found towards the bottom right of each relief.  

No history of the Castle Hotel can be complete without mentioning world famous artist LS Lowry who often painted scenes up and down the north-east coast and had a great fondness for Berwick.  He would often stay in the Castle Hotel.  It is said it was because the room had a view of the industrial scene that was the coal yard at the railway station (now the car park.

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Sketch showing St Mary’s church Castlegate
by LS Lowry, 1958.

He famously sketched the above picture as a present for a young receptionist who, not knowing the gust’s identity, promptly threw it away, thinking he was a “dirty old man”.  Her mistake was pointed out and when it came to auction it sold for £8000.

References

My thanks to Wendy Hawkyard Bell for her invaluable help with information.

1852 map:  http://www.nls.uk/maps/townplans/berwick.html

John Wood:  http://www.coldingham.info/history/john-wood-collection.shtml

Forgotten Berwick Facebook group

Berwick Record Office:  Licencing books and trade directories

Castle Hotel website

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