A Tale of Two Towers

Its weird isn’t it?  You research your favourite mediaeval castle and walls and think nothing else can be found but then, all of a sudden, not one but two possible towers come along at once!

I’ve sent his off to the County archaeologist and look forward to hearing the official word from him.

St Nicholas Tower 

It has long been known that the St Nicholas Tower existed in the south-east corner of Berwick’s mediaeval walls. There are two mentions of it in the collection of records I have pertaining to the building of the walls and castle. 

From 1537:

Item for mending of a stock lock to the postern door at St.Nicholas’s tower and for mending of a stock lock to the tower door that John Schylle [a smith working on the project] keeps, 5d.

And a survey in 1538:

Item, between the same tower for against the windmill and St. Nicholas’s tower is the distance of 120 yards, and the same St. Nicholas’s tower containeth in wideness but 4 foot and in thickness but 2 foot, and so sore decayed that the gunners dare not occupy any ordnance within the same. And the foundation of a buttress made for the strengthening on the same with the foundation of the same tower self, is wasted and by the surges of the water shrunken and fallen down. So as the same tower being one of the corners of the wall of the same town is right like to fall within brief time unless it be the rather repaired and amended. 

Item, between the said Nicholas tower and the Blakwatchowse tower is the distance of 120 yards. The foundation of divers places whereof with of a buttress lately made for strengthening of the same is worn away by surges of the water to the danger of the falling of a part of the same wall within brief time without the same be the more hastily repaired and amended. 

There are three images which show the tower to have a peculiar shape. It may originally have been circular about the corner in the curtain wall like Coxons Tower, and at some point, possibly because of decay from wave action, it was truncated to having a flat south wall. This can be clearly seen in Rowland Johnson’s plans from 1561 and to a lesser extent in a topographic map of c1570. 


Detail from CPM 1:22 by Rowland Johnson, c1561.  The St Nicholas Tower is to the right.  Note the intended position of Kings Mount.  The wall connecting it to Megs Mount was abandoned and it was actually built further south to join with the mediaeval walls.


Detail from British Library map, (Cotton MS Augustus ii, 14) c1570. Similar orientation to the Johnson map but note that Kings Mount is joined to the earlier walls.

A military plan of 1725 suggests the mediaeval wall extended east of the junction with theElizabethan walls and this is also seen in the South Prospect of Berwick-upon-Tweed by the Buck brothers. 


Detail from South Prospect of Berwick-upon-Tweed by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, 1745.

In a small yard between The Old Whale Oil House, Pier Road, Berwick upon Tweed and a flight of steps leading up from Pier Road to the tennis courts, there is a section of south facing wall approximately 3m wide and 1.5m high. It is built around an outcrop of rock.This lower section of wall is believed to be part of the south face of the St Nicholas Tower.Above this is later masonry. The steps to the left are a later addition; on the 1st edition OS map of 1852 they are shown to be perpendicular to this wall. There may therefore be some masonry belonging to the (suspected) mediaeval phase behind this. 


Section of wall by The Old Whale Oil House showing two distinct building phases. 


Detail from OS map. Solid red line represents 120 yards (taken from map scale). Dotted red line shows assumed alignment of mediaeval walls to north of St Nicholas Tower. 

The 1538 survey records that the distance between the St Nicholas Tower and the Black Watch House Tower is 120 yards. Drawing a scaled line 120 yards long from the Black Watch House Tower eastwards finishes at the section of wall in the yard. This is however further east than one would have expected in relation to the earthworks to the north.

Here, there are two “embankments” running parallel to each other. It has been assumed that the westernmost of the two is the degraded countermure mentioned in the 1538 survey. This was a secondary earthwork thrown up against the back of the original curtain wall to strengthen it against enemy cannon fire. This is evidenced by facing stonework within its mass, exposed by a footpath made by generations of people climbing the embankment. When the eastern earthwork dates from is unknown but may be associated with the 16th century works. Of course, it is interesting to note that this is in alignment with the suspected site of the tower and that the original assumptions have been incorrect. 

I hope to include this in my Tower Tour for Heritage Open Days on Sunday 15th September, 2013.

Berwick Castle South Postern Tower 

And so to part 2 of this post.  I have to say I am less certain of this so we shouldn’t get too excited by this.  Also, please note, this is on private property so please don’t go looking without asking permission.  This will hopefully be included in my Castle Tour for Heritage Open Days on Saturday 14th September, 2013.

The wall behind Castle Vale House has been thought by many to be part of the south curtain wall of Berwick Castle. This however cannot be the case but a section within it may belong to the Postern Tower. 


The present railway station south wall looking east towards the Constable Tower garderobe. The level of the castle ward would have been very much lower to the east of the railway line than now. When the railway complex was built, the land had to be levelled and this wall was built to retain the infill. 


Early 19th century painting showing south side of Castle Hill. The windmill tower on the right is above the site of Castle Vale House. Note the lack of substantial masonry in the vicinity. 

Further evidence is provided by a window within Constable Tower to the north of the garderobe that now looks “into” the fill behind the present south wall. This indicates that the original alignment of the castle south wall must have been 1–2m to the north of the present wall. 


Inside of Constable Tower and plan showing door to garderobe and blocked window to right. 


Detail from 1852 OS map. The red line marks 20 yards (91 links on the scale). This is about 2m short of the quoin stones. Note the range of buildings and wall between Castle Vale House (Castle Cottage) and the south wall. 

From the 1538 survey:

Item, between the same tower [Constable Tower] and the postern tower on the south side of the castle is the distance of 20 yards, which tower is dampned within,and a great part of the same tower toward the castle inward is fallen down, and the-rest of the same will fall very shortly outward. And nigh the same tower on the westside is a postern of iron with a wood gate without, good and strong. 


South wall showing different building phases.

Examination of the south wall shows certain features which may suggest a building sequence. In the photograph above there can be seen the roof scar and interior limewash of a pent shed.  To the left of this is evidence of a wall approximately 0.5m thick which appears to be emerging from “within” the south wall.  It appears to be approximately the same height of the shed but is much thicker than a shed of this size would merit.  It may therefore be a pre-existing wall that was convenient for the shed to be built up against.

However, countering this argument is the fact that this protruding wall is in line with the main body of the house and is at an angle to the south wall.  One would not expect the main body of the house to be aligned to take advantage of an old wall!

Nonetheless, to the left of the wall scar is a vertical masonry join.  There are quoin stones to the left of this just showing smooth faces returning “into” the  south wall.  The question then arises, “What feature could explain a wall returning north from this point?”  

Overlying all these features is the main body of the 19th century wall.


Schematic diagram showing order of building phases 

While it is by no means certain that the section of wall to the west of the quoin stones is part of the Postern Tower, and why the projecting wall should be built thus is unknown, the fact remains that there appears to be a return at that masonry join. It is also true that no (recorded) building work took place between the demise of the castle and the coming of the railways. It is therefore hard to fathom what this section of wall could be other than the south face of the Postern Tower. 

Of course, the situation is complicated further by some apertures to the west of this.  One is a blocked hole that bears a resemblance to the fish-tailed arrow slits seen in the Constable Tower – but is much smaller!  It is located at present ground level and is about 50mm wide and 150mm high.  There are two other similar sized apertures along the wall at the same level but these are much plainer.  

They may be weep holes to drain moisture from behind the wall, but then again, the fact that there are no other (or very few) weep holes is itself a mystery!


Fish-tailed aperture.

The other hole of note is much larger – about 200mm wide by 800mm high.  It appears to have lintels forming the top.  It looks like a small window that has been blocked up at he rear.  Except there is a lead pipe sheathed in a ceramic pipe appearing in the lintels!


Ornamental pig guarding the “window” aperture.


Looking up at he lead pipe at rear of the “window” aperture.

So what does all this tell us?  Unfortunately, not a great deal.  Rather it just adds to the mystery.  Are these features recycled from elsewhere? Are they original? How do they relate to anything else?  Who can say? Not me… yet.

But then that’s all part of the fun!


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