Berwick – Ripped From Scotland By The Bloody Hands Of Edward Longshanks and His Successors – But Not Assimilated Into England Until 1974
With Westminster being almost 350 miles away from Berwick-upon-Tweed, its residents do not feel connected to English politics. With bagpipes playing and Scottish flags fluttering in the wind, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Scotland.
But this is Berwick-upon-Tweed, part of Northumberland – the most northern town in England and just two-and-a-half miles from the Scottish border. It has a turbulent history – passing between English and Scottish hands at least 13 times, starting with King Edward 1st who slaughtered and/or destroyed just about everyone and everything in the town, (children, adults, livestock and grain) for having the temerity to pledge their allegiance to Scotland. The killing, raping and plundering went on for days and the streets of Berwick ran red with the blood of the innocents.
With the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh just over an hour away by road, and Westminster more than six hours by car, do the people feel more Scottish than English? Well the answer was provided by the people of Berwick in 2008 when ITV carried out an unofficial referendum to find out if residents would prefer their town to be part of Scotland. The poll saw 1,182 voters in favour of becoming part of Scotland and 775 in favour of staying in England.
The Scottish Parliament was convened again in 1999, for the first time since 1707 following a devolution referendum.
Our kinfolk in Berwick watched on with aching hearts longing to be to be part of Scotland once more. A local interviewed at the time of the ITV referendum said “As devolution cut its teeth and aged, I think Berwick people became aware of the differences perhaps more than anyone else in England because [Scotland] is so close and they can see what’s happening just over the border,”
The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, defenders of Berwick and freemen of the town recently marched through Berwick after returning from Afghanistan. Locals turned out in force to welcome their boys home and many were adamant Berwick should be returned to Scotland.
Berwick resident Eileen Buchanan felt the town was detached from what was happening at Westminster. “They do nothing for us at this end of the country,” she said. “Nothing. This is like the back of beyond as far as London is concerned.”
Marion Bates, who was born and raised in Berwick, waved a Scottish flag as she watched the parade with her husband Trevor Bates, who was born in Scotland. When asked if she felt her hometown should be part of Scotland, she said “Berwick is just a lost town. “My youngest son came out of the Army two years ago and there are no jobs. There is nothing for him.” Mr Bates added: “From Parliament in London to Newcastle, that’s where it stops.”
Part-time student Jonathan Bain, 34, said “When you look at Berwick’s history, it’s no surprise that the town is divided.”
Kings Own Scottish Borders march through their hometown of Berwick celebrating “Minden Day”
The Royal Scots Borderers march through Berwick
Kings Own Scottish Borderers veterans marching into the KOSB barracks in Berwick
A Brief Recap of Berwick’s History
In Anglo-Saxon times, Berwick-upon-Tweed was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria – an area stretching between York and Edinburgh. In 1018, following a battle between the Scots and the Northumbrians, it became part of Scotland.
Its importance as a Scottish town grew and, by the Middle Ages, it was the richest port in the country. In 1296, England’s King Edward I captured Berwick-upon-Tweed, beginning a period of warfare between the two nations which saw the town change hands 13 times. The last time it changed hands by force was in 1482 when it came under English control.
Even then it remained independent, with legal documents referring to it as being of the Kingdom of England but not within it. In 1885, it became part of the county of Northumberland for administrative purposes and was fully integrated into the county in 1974.
Historian Derek Sharman said the people of Berwick felt independent. “It’s been a ping pong ball for centuries,” said Derek Sharman, a historian and tour guide in Berwick. “It’s a very very on-the-edge kind of place. “The people of Berwick feel really independent. You are a Berwicker first, Scottish or English second.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/england/8640148.stm
Capture of Berwick 1492