Berwick—A Garrison Town.   Part 5: 18th Century Military Berwick

The story continues.  I’ve added some links to previous posts that go into a bit more detail on some of these places.

The Barracks

Until the early 18th century, the town’s soldiery was lodged, or billeted in private houses and taverns.  Householders were given a small allowance which was usually paid late and could never recompense for the inconvenience and disruption to family life.

Berwick Barracks (Dr. Fuller, History of Berwick, 1799).  A building in the square in front of the Clock Block was the soldiers’ wash-house and supplied water to the Barracks.

The town suffered enormous strain in housing thousands of soldiers during the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715–16.  Although the building of a barracks was first mooted in 1705, the insurgency prompted the government to finally accept the need for proper accommodation for the troops.  Designed by Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor, building of England’s first purpose-built infantry barracks began in 1717 and they were occupied in 1721.  

36 officers and 600 men could be housed in the two rectangular barrack blocks, each room accommodating a section of 8 men.  In some rooms, a corner was partitioned off with blankets to provide privacy for the few married men allowed to have their families living with them.  At first there were no proper cooking facilities.  The men prepared food in their rooms and the officers had their meals brought in from the town.  The north end of the east range was later converted into kitchens.

The Clock Block was added at the south end of the Barrack Square in about 1740.  Originally used as a store-house, it was converted in the 19th century for recreation.

The Clock Block is now home to Berwick Museum and Art Gallery.

The Arms of King George I adorn the gatehouse.  

Governor’s House

The Governor’s House stands on the east side of Palace Green.  It was built in 1719, at the same time as the Barracks, and was the residence of the town’s military Governor and other senior officers of the garrison.

A view of the Governor’s Palace from the riverside walls.
(Dr. Fuller, History of Berwick, 1799)

Palace Green had, since late medieval times, been an area used for storehouses, a bakery and brewhouse and other official buildings.  There is a suggestion of a “palace” being there since the 16th century, possibly on the same site as the present building.  

After the post of Governor was abolished in 1833, the Governor’s House was used by officers until it was sold off.  Since then, the building has been used for a variety of purposes including a school, a brewery and a garage.  It now houses private accommodation.

Military Hospital

In 1730 a private house in Ravensdowne, close by the Barracks, was requisitioned to serve as a military hospital.

Detail from a military map (1745) showing the site of the 1745 hospital (red outline) and below, the building requisitioned in 1730 (labelled A).

This must have proved inadequate as in 1745, a neighbouring plot was requisitioned to build a new hospital.  This housed a small surgery and beds for 24 invalids.  Some of the original surgeon’s cupboards were discovered when the building was being converted into flats in the 1980s.

The Military Hospital of 1745.

The Riverside Defences

Though the threat from Scotland was extinguished with the failure of the Jacobite Risings, France was a constant enemy throughout the 18th century and an attack on the area remained a real possibility.

By now, the Elizabethan fortifications were badly decayed and obsolete, and yet again, the defences had to be greatly improved in the middle of the 18th century.

Detail from a military map (1751) showing the estuary walls (south is at the top). The thick line shows the existing medieval walls and King’s Mount to the left.  The thin line denotes the proposed new walls.  A map drawn the previous year shows ambitious massive outworks all around the outside of the Elizabethan ramparts.

The ancient battlements around the lower part of the town were replaced with new parapets and artillery positions to guard the river-mouth and entrance to the port.

In 1799, the walls were mounted with eight 24 pounders, six 12 pounders. sixteen 9 pounders and twenty-two 4 pounders. There were also two 13 inch mortars.

Cannon overlooking the river mouth.  Coxon’s Tower is in the background

A number of old cannon still stood on the riverside walls until World War II when all but one were removed as part of the “Scrap Drive” to recycle metal to meet wartime needs.

The Russian Cannon, one of many captured at the Crimea.  
It was installed at Fisher’s Fort in 1860 and was the only one to escape the demands of the war effort.

The Gunpowder Magazine

During the Jacobite Rising of 1745–46, Berwick had been threatened.  Much of the garrison’s gunpowder was found to be useless because of damp in the various small stores around the walls and in the bastions.  A new ammunition store was needed.  The Magazine, constructed in 1750–51, replaced an earlier, presumably inadequate, magazine known to be on that site as early as 1682.  

The Magazine is complete with its internal fittings, including a wooden hoist and the racks that once held the powder-casks.

The new building incorporated precautions against accidental explosion.  All external woodwork, such as the doors and their frames, are covered with copper sheets to prevent their catching fire.  To avoid sparks being struck, no iron was used, wooden pegs being used in place of nails.  

The Gunpowder Magazine

Should there have been an accident, its thick walls are strengthened with stout buttresses to force any explosion upwards through the roof.  

The Main Guard

Guard-houses were located close to the main gateways so that the soldiers could check all who passed in or out and enforce the nightly 8pm curfew.The Main Guard was the most important of these guard-houses from which drummers beat the calls that regulated the soldiers’ day.  As well as providing accommodation for the soldiers on guard duty, the Main Guard acted as a form of police station.  In the centre of the building there is an unlit cell—the “Black Hole”­—where deserters, drunks, vagrants or petty criminals could be locked up.  Records show that French prisoners-of-war were sometimes housed temporarily in the Main Guard.The sign in the portico of this building has led to the popular belief that this building was dismantled and moved to this location in 1815 from a site in Golden Square.  

The Main Guard.

In fact, the location of the Main Guard has moved several times.  On a map dated 1682, it is marked close to the site of the present Town Hall.  By 1747, it had been moved further up the street to opposite West Street but by 1750 it had been removed to the east side of modern Golden Square. However, the townspeople considered it an obstruction to traffic and in 1813, the Board of Ordnance agreed:

“… in consequence of a Wish expressed to the Barracks Department by the Inhabitants of Berwick that the Guard House in the high Street should be removed to a less inconvenient Situation the Board had consented the Guard House being provided the New Scite of the Building is upon an open Space near the Saluting Battery; but that the Board cannot permit the present Guard House being pulled down until the Mayor and Corporation in their Official Capacities shall engage to build the new one of the same dimensions, of the same Elevation, and equally servicable in every respect, upon the spot pointed out.” 

From this it is clear that the Palace Street Main Guard was a completely new building.

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