Berwick Castle

Visiting Berwick Castle

 

Can You visit Berwick Castle?

Berwick Castle is in ruins today, with only portions of the White Wall and the Breakneck Stairs surviving. The castle was replaced by the most impressive fortified defences that surround the historic town. You can walk the complete circuit, while the castle ruins are open to public display.

Parking

Public car parking is available around the town.

Price

Free entry to castle and ramparts.

Charges may apply for parking.

Opening

The castle is open 24 hours a day - Use caution while visiting at dusk, as the ground is uneven.

Location & Access

The castle sits adjacent to the Berwick-Upon-Tweed railway station.

Ramparts have several access points - look for the brown signs posted around the town.

Know Before You Go

  • There is disabled access to the ramparts.
  • Sections of the Ramparts have unguarded steep drops.
  • Toilet facilities and a refreshment shop are available at Berwick Barracks.

History of Berwick Castle
(Time Line)

Berwick's history reflects the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England, as the castle and town often played centre stage.


-1124

King David I ascends to the Scottish throne and builds a castle to protect the harbour town of Berwick.

-1160

King Malcolm IV uses the castle to incarcerate prisoners, which is one of the most reputable first mentions of the castle being used, suggesting the castle was completed by this time.

-1175

Both the castle and town are used as leverage to pass the Treaty of Falaise. The terms included the release of the captured Scottish king. 

-1189

King Richard, desperate to obtain the Third Crusade financing, sells Berwick castle back to the Scots.

-1175

In the year following the capture of Scottish king William the Lion at Alnwick Castle, Berwick Castle was surrendered to King Henry II of England under terms of ransom.

-1216

King John attacks Berwick, forcing the Scots out.

-1292 

The English are given control of Berwick and other Royal Castles in Scotland, which was a part of an agreement that stated that King Edward I was to arbitrate on the Scottish succession after the passing of King Alexander III's sole surviving heir, Margaret, two years prior. On the King's behalf, Sir John Pottow provided a full account of the castle. In November, Edward I declared John Balliol the new Scottish king.

-1296

Edward I captures Berwick Castle from Balliol and uses the Great Hall to receive homage from the defeated Scottish noble. Balliol and Berwick's inhabitants are cruelly slaughtered to serve as revenge and warning to the Scots. Upgrades were made to Berwick Castle, including Water Gate construction and curtain wall extension to reach the River Tweed banks. Berwick Town Walls also get extensive upgrades.

-1297

The Scots rebel under William Wallace's leadership, who defeats the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and mounts an attack on Berwick later in the year. Wallace successfully takes the town, yet the castle holds out.

-1314

Robert the Bruce spends years systematically seizing and destroying castles in Scotland held by the English, and by 1314, only Stirling and Berwick hold out. Edward II marches his army out of Berwick to travel to Stirling Castle to save it from the Scots, but are defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn.

-1315

Berwick Castle is besieged by Robert the Bruce.

-1318 

Determined to take its critical seaport, Robert the Bruce goes back to Berwick, and lays siege by land and sea, forcing Berwick to surrender when the governor betrays the town. King Edward II attempts to take back Berwick by undermining the walls, but is unsuccessful and forced to retreat.

-1333

King Edward III of England finally recaptures the castle and the fortified town after the Scots are defeated at the Battle of Halidon Hill. Berwick is formally annexed to England. 

-1355

Berwick is recaptured in a surprise Scottish attack; forces withdraw a year later once the English army advances. 

-1357

The Treaty of Berwick formally brings the war to an end, but both the castle and the town continue to be troubled by border disputes. 

-1377

The Scots and French combine forces to capture the castle, while the English governor commits suicide by jumping out one of the castle's upper windows. Following an eight-day siege, Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, recaptures the castle and kills the entire 48-man stronghold. 

-1378 

Alexander Ramsay and a small Scottish army of forty men approach Berwick Castle. Finding no guards, they raised ladders on the walls, gained entry to the keep, killed the castle's commander, and seized control. 

The residents of Berwick responded by destroying the castle's drawbridge so the Scots could not leave. While waiting for a larger Scottish army to arrive from north of Berwick, Ramsay and his men are faced with the Earl of Northumberland and his 10,000 men. They laid siege, quickly recaptured the castle, and killed all the Scots within. Ramsay's life was spared as he surrendered.

-1384

Henry Percy permits the Scots to take control of the castle and is subsequently charged with treason by King Richard II. After gathering a large army and bribing the Scots with 2,000 marks to surrender the castle, Percy is pardoned. 

-1461

The Lancastrian queen, Margaret of Anjou, ceded the castle to the Scots in exchange for their support to the Lancastrian cause. 

-1464

The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland mention that Robert Lauder of Edrington received £20 for repairs made to the castle.

-1482

Berwick is recaptured for Yorkist King Edward IV by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his Yorkist army. 

-1488

The castle's defences undergo considerable repairs and strengthening.

-1523

A survey of Berwick Castle concludes its defences inadequate to withstand cannon fire.

-1539 

Some of the repairs recommended from the 1523 survey are finally undertaken, which included replacing the Water Tower on the bank of the river with a new, three-storey tower. The massive, circular fortifications, otherwise known as the Lord's mount, are also built. 

-1558

Queen Mary of England gives an order to replace the medieval defences of Berwick with bastioned artillery fortifications. Meanwhile, with the English losing Calais, the French urged the Scots to open a second front up in their war by attacking Berwick.

-1568

The Franco-Scottish threat had subsided, and Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England. Once it is clear that Queen Elizabeth I will be succeeded by King James IV of Scotland as King James I of England, no additional work is undertaken to improve or restore Berwick's defences.

-1590

John Selby reports that a round tower that served as the castle's sole gun emplacement collapsed in wet weather. 

-1603

James I of England assumes the throne, and Berwick Castle is considered surplus.

-1605

The Earl of Dunbar purchases the castle from King James I and began converting the castle into a palatial residence, but died before it was finished.

-1611

The Earl of Dunbar dies and passes the incomplete building to Earl of Suffolk, Theophilus Howard. Work on the castle's conversion ceased.

-1650

Stones from the castle are taken to build the Holy Trinity Church, and the castle is left to decay. 

-1843

Most of what remains of Berwick castle is demolished by the North British Railway to make room for a railway line and station. 

Berwick Castle Occupants

 

Below is a partial list of former Governors of Berwick-Upon-Tweed who have served as keepers of Berwick Castle. The castle and town changed hands several times for nearly 500 years. 

  • 1294–1296 - Sir William Douglas; surrendered to Edward I of England following the Massacre of Berwick
  • C.1314 - Maurice de Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley 
  • 1316 - Edmond de Caillou, Gascon governor for the English
  • 1330-3 - Sir Robert de Lawedre of the Bass
  • January–July 1333 - Patrick de Dunbar, 5th Earl of March
  • 1461–1474 - Robert de Lawedre of Edrington 
  • 1474–1478 - David, Earl of Crawford
  • 1478–1482 - Sir Robert Lauder of The Bass
  • 1482 - Sir Patrick Hepburn (last Scottish governor).
  • 1564 - Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford

 

Berwick Castle Images

Berwick Castle
Berwick Castle - White Wall

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Berwick Castle Q&A

What Type of Castle Was Berwick Castle?

Berwick Castle is described as both a Timber Castle as well as a Masonry Castle, because of the masonry footing remains.

Is Berwick Castle Known by Another Name?

Some historical documents refer to Berwick Castle as Berwick-Upon-Tweed Castle, Constable Tower, and The White Hall.

When Was Berwick Castle First Built?

Berwick Castle was built in the first half of the 12th century. Scottish King David I began construction circa 1124 after taking the throne, and records indicate that it was finished mid-century. 

How Big Was Berwick Castle?

Berwick's size and strength cannot be truly appreciated today, as the entirety of the southern, eastern, and northern defences have been removed. The best description of the castle came from Sir John Pottow in 1292. The lengthy inventory lists each room and gives an impression that, even then, the place was a bit shabby around the edges. 

The castle was an unevenly shaped courtyard, approximately 100 yards to 100 metres long on each side, which crowned a natural hill, while a deep ditch separated it from the rest of the town by a stream. Evidence suggests walls were around 50 feet tall, and about five stories high.

What Was the Main Use of Berwick?

Berwick served as one of the most important fortresses throughout the Anglo-Scottish Wars. Modifications were constantly done until the 1538 surveyor's report led to it becoming abandoned in favour of the Edward VI Citadel. 

Does Berwick Castle Still Exist?

Unfortunately, very little of the medieval castle (and the town walls) exist today and are a mere shell of their former glory. The primary part of the castle that remains is that of the White Wall and a steep set of stairs.

The impressive bastion fortifications remain, and you can walk around them freely. Read more about the history of the ramparts.

 

Location of Berwick Castle

Berwick Castle remains in Berwick-Upon-Tweed in the county of Northumberland. Masonry footing remains can still be seen. The site is a Grade 1 listed building and scheduled monument.