Berwick Castle was probably originally built by David I in about 1120 upon a (then) isolated hill to the north of the town. Unlike most castles, Berwick was never a family seat; it was always a place of administration.
Artist’s impression of Berwick Castle in the 14th century looking from the east, showing the entrance from the Douglas Tower to the Donjon.
As well as initiating the town walls, Edward I made various modifications to the castle. The White Wall leading to the river was certainly one of his works and it is likely much more was done.
In 1344, we learn the walls were “50 feet height, 12 feet at the foundation and 8 feet at the kernels [crenelations] in breadth”. Throughout the 14th century, strengthening of the walls continued and bratticing was added to the outside of the walls to better defend the base of the walls.
Despite attempts to maintain the castle, changing technology meant that by the 16th century, the castle was obsolete Despite this it was still being used until the 17th century.
THE MEDIEVAL WALLS
When Edward I attacked in 1296, Berwick was protected only by a ditch and an earth rampart topped by a wooden palisade. It is popularly believed that this ditch is Spades Mire but the evidence for this is not conclusive and this may be a later structure.
Edward stayed in Berwick for a month. Within a week, he ordered a stone wall to be built encircling the town with a ditch 24m (80 feet) wide and 13m (40 feet) deep on the north and east sides of the town. The King himself was said to have wheeled the first barrow-load of earth. This would have had an embankment surmounted by a quickly erected wooden palisade which, in time, would be replaced by a stone wall encircling the town.
Work progressed slowly and by the time Robert the Bruce captured the town in 1318 the walls were not yet built between the quayside and the castle and in most places were barely 3m (10 feet) high. This was remedied by Bruce and between 1318 and 1350 the town walls were raised to a height of 10m (30 feet).
Black Watch House Tower, the only surviving semi-circular medieval tower.
Seventeen semi-circular towers, five main gateways (and other, lesser gateways) were eventually built around the 4km (2½ mile) circuit. Parts of the 14th century wall and ditch can still be seen near the Holiday Centre and Magdalen Fields Golf Course.
a Donjon, b Constable Tower, c Postern Tower, d Chapel Tower,
e Buttress Tower, f White Wall, g Angle Tower, h Bakehouse Tower,
i Bonkhill Tower, j Gunners Tower
1 Douglas Tower, 2 St Mary Gate, 3 Broadstairhead Tower,
4 Tower (later Bell Tower), 5 Wallace Gate, 6 Bell Tower (later Lord’s Mount), 7 Murderer Tower, 8 Middle Tower, 9 Red Tower, 10 Cow Gate, 11 Tower,
12 Tower, 13 Tower, 14 Conduit Tower, 15 Windmill Tower,
16 St Nicholas Tower, 17 Black Watch House Tower, 18 Watch House Tower, 19 Plommer’s Tower, 20 Coxon’s Tower, 21 New Tower,
22 Water Gate, (later Shore Gate), 23 Briggate
Map of Berwick showing the castle and medieval walls.
THE CHANGING FORTUNES OF WAR
It is said Berwick is “the most fought over town in Christendom save Jerusalem”. Sometimes the castle fell but not the town; sometimes the town but not the castle. In all there were 17 exchanges but it is generally accepted that both the castle and town of Berwick changed hands between Scots and English thirteen times.
- 1174 English Treaty of Falaise. Berwick, along with Stirling, Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Jedburgh castles, is part of a ransom to free the Scottish king, William I who was captured at the Battle of Alnwick in 1172.
- 1189 Scottish Richard I sells Berwick for ten thousand marks (£6,666) to fund the crusades.
- 1296 English Edward I besieges the town by land and sea. After a failed assault by sea, Edward attacks the town from the north, slaughtering the inhabitants. It is said the streets ran red with blood.
- 1297 Scottish Town falls to William Wallace after the Scottish victory at Stirling Bridge. Castle retained by English.
- 1298 English Scots abandon the town upon hearing of English army advancing north.
- 1318 Scottish At the third attempt, Bruce takes Berwick through the treachery of Peter de Spalding who allowed the Scots over the walls at the Cow Gate for £800. The Castle held out for 11 weeks before falling through lack of supplies. Peter de Spalding was killed by the Scots whom he had aided.
- 1333 English Siege of Berwick and Battle of Halidon Hill by Edward III. The “Great Siege” of Berwick began on 4th April. It is said Berwick was the first town in the country to be besieged by cannon. The English army:
“…made meny assautes with gonnes and with othere engynes to the toune, wherwith thai destroiede meny a fair hous…”
Eventually, the Governor agreed to surrender the town if it was not relieved by 20th July. A relief force arrived on the eve of the deadline and attempted to break through the encircling English army. A battle was fought on Halidon Hill, just to the north of the town. The Scots were heavily defeated and Berwick surrendered on the following day, as agreed.
- 1355 Scottish Thomas Stewart, Earl of Angus takes the town by scaling the walls at night. As in 1297, the Scots failed to take the castle.
- 1356 English Edward III returned from France and marched northwards to the Border. Facing overwhelming odds, the Scots abandoned Berwick.
- 1378 French? Berwick castle taken by about 48 Scots who tunnelled their way in. The Constable, Sir Robert Boynton, was killed when he attempted to escape by leaping from a window. The Scots declare allegiance only to the King of France!
- 1378 English After a short siege, the Earl of Northumberland aided by the Scottish Earl of Dunbar retake the castle. The first Englishman through the breach was Harry Hotspur, the 12 year old son of the Earl of Northumberland.
- 1384 Scottish Scots bribe the Warden of the castle (the Deputy-Governor of Northumberland) to give up Berwick to them.
- 1384 English After a short, unsuccessful siege, the Earl of Northumberland buys back Berwick for 2000 marks.
- 1405 Scottish The Earl of Northumberland hands Berwick to the Scots in exchange for his assistance during the rebellion against Henry IV.
- 1405 English Henry IV retakes the castle by siege.
- Scottish Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife negotiates with James II’s widow, Mary of Gueldres, over the gift of Berawick for Scottish assistance against the Yorkists
- 1482 English Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) besieges and takes town for the final time.