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The medieval and post-medieval fortifications at Berwick upon Tweed

A Scheduled Monument in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.7697 / 55°46'10"N

Longitude: -1.9982 / 1°59'53"W

OS Eastings: 400208.6845

OS Northings: 652929.0736

OS Grid: NU002529

Mapcode National: GBR G1HQ.5K

Mapcode Global: WH9YK.87QQ

Entry Name: The medieval and post-medieval fortifications at Berwick upon Tweed

Scheduled Date: 22 December 1960

Last Amended: 18 September 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015968

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28532

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Berwick-upon-Tweed

Built-Up Area: Berwick-upon-Tweed

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Berwick Holy Trinity and St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


Berwick upon Tweed is situated on a promontory formed by the entry of the
River Tweed into the North Sea and also lies close to the border between
England and Scotland. The monument, which is divided into three separate
areas, includes the full extent of the Elizabethan ramparts with their
bastions, gateways and earthworks as well as parts of the medieval town
defences, including the earthen mound, wall and ditch, in addition to the
Henrician earthwork and masonry fortification known as Lord's Mount. The core
of the site is in the care of the Secretary of State. The monument also
includes other earthwork artillery structures and additional parts of the
medieval defences which survive as extant earthworks and buried remains.
Further remains such as Berwick Castle and Spades Mire linear earthwork are
the subject of separate schedulings.
It is known that the town of Berwick was in existence by the ninth century,
although the exact date of its earliest occupation is uncertain. The
establishment of the River Tweed as the southern boundary of Scotland after
the battle of Carham in 1018 meant that the strategic position of Berwick upon
Tweed between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland was secured. The town was
given the status of a royal burgh in the 12th century and was captured from
the Scots in 1296 by Edward I. A ditch and an earthen bank topped by a wooden
palisade was constructed at this time and is one of the earliest defensive
features known to exist at Berwick upon Tweed. A year later, work was begun to
strengthen these early defences; the palisade was replaced by a stone wall
furnished with interval towers and on the north and east sides a large moat
was added. The whole circuit defended an area of 57ha. Modifications to the
town walls for the provision of artillery pieces in the early 16th century
altered their medieval form in several places. Eventually the northern third
of the medieval defences was abandoned and the southern part was incorporated
within the considerably smaller area enclosed by the Elizabethan bastioned
town walls.
Parts of the western side of the medieval town defences, abandoned during the
16th century, are visible and are contained within two separate areas of
protection. On the steep slopes north of Meg's Mount a length of masonry
stands to a maximum height of 18 courses; beyond this to the north and south,
the stone wall can be traced as footings or low walling 1.5m wide, standing to
a maximum of four courses high and backed by a large earthen mound 2m high and
2m wide. Further remains of the medieval western defences are visible to the
north consisting of a length of walling standing 2m high, surmounted by a
section of rebuilt medieval masonry.
On the northern side of Berwick upon Tweed the surviving portions of medieval
town defences survive as a broad ditch measuring a maximum of 24m wide, now
partly surviving as a buried feature. A length of earthen mound a maximum of
13m wide stands to the rear of the ditch surmounted in places by lengths of
stone walling. The lower storeys of an octagonal medieval tower measuring 6.5m
wide, re-modelled in the 16th century, are situated within this stretch. Also
contained in this area are parts of the eastern medieval defences; they are
visible as a length of ditch 19m wide and 2m deep with a slight bank 2.5m wide
on the eastern side. On the western side of the ditch a well preserved length
of walling surmounting the earthen mound, which is 2.5m wide in this area, is
clearly visible. The remains of a semicircular medieval interval tower known
as Middle Tower is also visible in this length projecting 2.5m beyond the line
of the wall.
The remainder of the medieval defences of Berwick upon Tweed are also
contained within the same area of protection as the northern defences. This
area also includes large sections of the later Elizabethan defences.
On the eastern side the medieval defences were superseded by the Elizabethan
town walls. However, as these were constructed within and slightly to the west
of their medieval predecessor, large parts of the latter survive above ground
as a series of earthworks immediately to the east of the Elizabethan
fortifications. Part of the medieval wall, visible as a low earthwork scarp
20m long, survives within the later Elizabethan ditch extending north from the
north face of Brass Bastion. Immediately south of Cowport gateway extending as
far as the King's Mount at the south eastern corner, the remains of the
medieval town defences are visible as a broad ditch 24m wide with the remains
of the mound and wall 5m wide situated to the west.
From King's Mount around the south and western side of Berwick upon Tweed as
far as Meg's Mount in the north west corner, the medieval defences have been
modified over several centuries. Much of the visible masonry in the walls on
these sides is medieval, but parts of the original wall have been rebuilt over
subsequent centuries. However, a length of unmodified medieval wall is visible
as it descends the steep slopes from King's Mount to the river for a distance
of 150m. This length of walling incorporates a semicircular interval tower 5m
wide known as Black Watchtower. A second medieval tower, known as Coxon Tower,
is visible at the extreme southern point of the defences. The upper parts of
this tower were subsequently rebuilt but its early 14th century vaulted lower
chamber is visible.
During the course of 300 years the town of Berwick upon Tweed, protected by
these medieval defences, was captured and sacked some 14 times by the English
and the Scottish until 1482 when taken and retained by the English. Such
attacks caused considerable damage to the medieval defences and over the
centuries many parts have been rebuilt, remodelled and strengthened. For
example, when the town was over run and taken for Scotland by Robert Bruce in
1318 the walls, although complete, were considered to be too low and were
heightened. Also, when the town fell to the English in 1482 documents make it
clear that extensive repairs to the town and its fortifications took place.
One of the most important modifications to the medieval walls during the early
16th century was the addition of a substantial earthen support behind the
existing wall.
During the early to mid-16th century the medieval defences were updated by the
addition of several new features. These features mark a transition from a
basic medieval system of defence to one better able to cope with the new use
of artillery in warfare. In 1522-3 a detached earthwork, known as Windmill
Bulwark, was constructed near the centre of the eastern town wall. This
earthwork, is visible as a turf covered raised platform standing to a maximum
height of 5.5m above the adjacent town moat with a depression 1.6m deep in its
centre. It is surrounded by a ditch 2.5m deep on its northern and eastern
sides. A second bulwark constructed of stone and designed for artillery was
added to the seaward defences at this time and incorporated the remains of the
medieval Coxon Tower. This bulwark, called at the time `The Bulwark by the
Sands', was subsequently remodelled and incorporated into the Elizabethan
At the north eastern corner of the medieval defences a third earthen bulwark
was built, which was itself succeeded in 1539-42 by a circular stone
fortification known as Lords's Mount, the design of which Henry VIII is known
to have been involved in. A series of earthworks which surround the later
Lord's Mount are thought to represent the remains of the earlier bulwark. They
are visible as ditches projecting around the north and eastern sides of Lord's
Mount and part of another ditch situated to the south. It is also thought that
some of these features were incorporated into the Lord's Mount as earthen
outworks. Lord's Mount was partly excavated between 1970-73 and its ground
floor plan is now clearly visible. It is a single storey circular artillery
fort of stone construction, 30m in diameter with walls almost 6m thick. Six
gun emplacements, or casemates for artillery are visible within its walls and
the living quarters including a kitchen with a fireplace and well and a
latrine are also visible. The upper storey which was removed in 1588,
contained the captain's apartments and was surmounted by a parapet containing
emplacements for heavy guns.
The final known modification to the medieval walls, before they were re-
modelled and partly abandoned in 1588, occurred in the reign of Edward VI when
a fort known as The Citadel was built astride the eastern town wall. This
feature consists of a rectangular fort with a bastion at each corner situated
within a broad moat. The intention behind its construction was to strengthen
the vulnerable seaward side of the town. Today the broad ditch on the eastern
side and the north east and south east bastions, which stand almost 3m above
the ditch, are visible as prominent earthworks projecting eastward beyond the
line of the medieval wall. The remainder of the eastern half has been
truncated by the digging of the Elizabethan ditch but the western half of the
citadel survives partly as an upstanding earthwork and partly as an infilled
buried feature projecting west of the Elizabethan fortifications. Subsequent
garden boundaries in this area have followed the curving outline of the
western wall of the citadel.
In 1558 Queen Mary ordered the total reconstruction of the defences at Berwick
in the light of a perceived new Scottish threat. Most of the work, however,
was carried out in the reign of Elizabeth I and the new system is known as the
Elizabethan ramparts. They were designed by the eminent military engineer Sir
Richard Lee who in 1545 had designed the first English bastioned town
fortifications at Portsmouth and enclosed an area of 37ha. At Berwick, he
proposed to reconstruct a complete bastion, adapted from an Italian design
best illustrated in the defences of Verona in northern Italy. The new town
defences at Berwick upon Tweed were to be rebuilt on the line of the medieval
walls but excluding the northern third of the town. Construction of the new
circuit commenced in 1558 and continued until 1569 when, still incomplete, it
was halted and only the northern and eastern faces were ever completed.
The Elizabethan town defences at Berwick upon Tweed consist of a series
of bastions, masonry platforms 6m high with two outer faces meeting at
an angle. They are linked by a narrow collar of walling to a curtain wall
which is backed internally by a substantial earthwork and surrounded by an
outer ditch. Cannon were placed within a flanker, the space between the
bastion and the curtain wall, in order to fire parallel to the wall. There are
five bastions at Berwick upon Tweed: Meg's Mount, Cumberland Bastion, Brass
Bastion, Windmill Bastion and King's Mount. Three of the bastions were
completely built but Meg's Mount and King's Mount were left as half bastions.
All were altered in size after their initial construction as contemporaries of
Lee considered that they were too small. In the mid-17th century raised
earthen platforms intended to house field guns and known as Cavaliers were
constructed upon each of the bastions.
The bastions are connected to a curtain wall, 4m high faced in squared smooth
masonry blocks. The wall has a slight batter and a moulding near the top of
the masonry. They are reinforced at the rear by a substantial earthwork and
have a sentry path, now partly covered over, along the top. An earthen
parapet, part of the original Elizabethan design, was constructed upon the
stone rampart between 1639 and 1653 in order to protect the sentry path.
Access through the ramparts was gained through two main gateways at this time.
A medieval gateway known as Cowport was rebuilt in the late 16th century to
give access through the new Elizabethan circuit. This gateway consists of a
tunnel vaulted passage with a groove in the vault to house a portcullis.
Excavations at Cowport in 1990 uncovered the remains of the portcullis
superstructure which had been partly buried by the addition of the
earthen parapet in the 17th century. Scotsgate, which is situated at the
north west corner of the ramparts, guarded the main road to Scotland
and would have originally been similar to Cowport before it was altered
during the 19th century. Outside of the ramparts on the north and east
fronts there is a wide ditch 55m wide which was originally water filled; a low
scarp across the ditch at the north eastern corner is the remains of a dam
intended to retain water at different levels within the ditch. Part of the
outer ditch is now infilled but it survives as a buried feature beneath the
current level of the ground.
A broad ditch 275m long and on average 20m wide with an earthen rampart up to
20m wide flanking its southern side was added to the defences in 1564. This
feature is situated immediately south of Brass Bastion and runs from the
Elizabethan ditch eastward to the edge of the cliff and was intended to
isolate the peninsula upon which Berwick upon Tweed stands. At this time it
was agreed that the new fortifications should encircle the whole of the
peninsula and this feature, known as the Traverse, was built as a part remedy.
At its eastern, seaward end there is a circular redoubt visible as a raised
earthen platform 25m by 34m wide surrounded by a broad rampart 7.5m wide
except at the seaward side.
New artillery defences were not constructed on the south and west sides of the
town between King's Mount and Meg's Mount. On these sides the medieval walls,
partly rebuilt and modified in the 18th century, remained as the only defence.
The modifications included in 1552-3 the re-modelling of an earlier structure
to produce a projecting gun battery called Fisher's Fort; six stone gun
emplacements are still visible today and the Russian cannon which is mounted
upon one of the emplacements was captured during the Crimean War. During the
second half of the 19th century, in response to strained relations with
France, a new battery was mounted upon Fishers Fort consisting of four 32
pounder guns. Two further gun batteries were constructed in 1745 in response
to the Jacobite uprising and were intended to cover the river area. These are
now known as Four Gun Battery and Saluting Battery. Saluting Battery is well
preserved, situated immediately to the west of Coxon Tower and visible as a
long row of 13 gun positions consisting of stone gun emplacements and
embrasures through the town walls for the mounting and firing of cannon. Four
Gun Battery, situated to the east of Coxon Tower, has emplacements and
embrasures for four guns. North of Saluting Battery a third gate was inserted
through the town defences during the 1760s. Known as Shoregate it is visible
as an arched gateway with its original timber doors still in place. A final
gateway near King's Mount, known as Ness Gate, was inserted in 1816 in order
to give access to the new pier.
A coastal battery situated upon Windmill Bastion in the centre of the east
front was constructed during the 19th century. It is visible today as 16
circular, rectangular and semicircular stone and concrete emplacements for
heavy guns. It is known that this battery was moved from its earlier situation
at Fisher's Fort. It consisted of two groups of eight guns operated by The
First Berwick upon Tweed Artillery Volunteers until 1908 when it was taken
over by the newly formed Territorial Army. The battery included both muzzle
and breach loading types of guns. The battery was dismantled during World War
I when Berwick was required to convey the impression of a non-fortified town.
The medieval town fortifications, including the Bell Tower, the Elizabethan
ramparts, Cowport and Shoregate, are all Grade I Listed Buildings.
A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling; these
are Lion House (Listed Grade II*), and Lion Gate (Listed Grade II), all street
furniture and fixtures (lamp posts, seats, litter bins, notice boards, signs
and telephone boxes and parking booths), and the surfaces of all roads,
drives, paths and carparks, all modern stone walls and metal railings walls,
fences, the powder magazine (as it is considered to be adequately protected by
its status as a Grade II* Listed Building), the Listed Grade II statue,
Magdalene Field House and all sheds, greenhouses and furniture associated with
all of the gardens which lie within the monument, although the ground beneath
all of these features is included in the scheduling.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

In the Middle Ages organized town defences normally involved the construction
of high curtain walls and flanking interval towers often surrounded by an
outer ditch. These were sufficient defence against attack from the armaments
of the time such as catapults, and they offered significant resistance to
sustained siege attack. During the 16th century the increasing use of
gunpowder artillery in warfare reduced the effectiveness of traditional
fortification. Direct bombardment from cannon meant that even the highest and
strongest walls could be demolished. The fortifications of the early
16th century accordingly reflect the considerable technical improvements which
led to artillery pieces becoming more mobile and accurate, combined with
specialist roles and greater velocity. Provision was made within existing
medieval town walls and towers for weapons of heavier calibres to be deployed.
In addition to guns mounted on ramparts, gun chambers or casemates were
inserted behind the walls enabling fire through gunports in the wall faces.
Gunports were concentrated in flanking positions in projecting towers or
bastions covering the external ditch and the adjacent curtain walls.
Earthworks were also added at this time, often constructed behind the backs of
curtain walls in order to absorb the shock of gunfire and to provide
additional gun platforms.
In the early forts and castles of Henry VIII, the medieval tradition reached
its final degree of modification with artillery fortification. Firepower was
arranged systematically in tiers, in what were elaborate, centrally planned
gun towers for all-round defence. They were the most scientifically designed
and architecturally accomplished gun towers to date. The substantial, thick
walled, masonry castles and blockhouses of the 1539/40 period were also
accompanied in a number of instances by earthworks, whether for mounting
batteries or providing lines of interconnecting ditch and rampart. The
survival of such earthworks is unusual and their survival at Berwick adds to
the importance of the monument.
A revolution in the fundamental concepts of defence, in the face of the
greatly more effective artillery, developed in Italy during the first half of
the 16th century and then spread throughout Europe. In essence, this
translated the medieval tower and high curtain wall of a fortress into
low-lying, stone or brick revetted earth ramparts, wide enough to manoeuvre
guns and comprehensively flanked by pointed angle bastions. The angle bastion
was the crux of the revolution. It was so shaped that it did not present any
dead ground in which the enemy might safely gather to undermine the masonry
and create a breach. By skilful and geometrically based planning, bastions
could be arranged to cover all parts of the circuit. The bastion was also the
main `fire base' not only for local defence but also actively beyond the ditch
against the enemy in the field. The bastion system was to provide the basis of
military engineering for the better part of the next 300 years. It first
appeared in English fortifications at the same time as Henry VIII's defensive
scheme was underway and by his death, bastion fortifications were beginning to
appear. Therefore the 1540s represent a significant transitional period in
English military engineering. Because so many examples from this process of
change survive within a limited area, and are reasonably well documented, this
group has international significance. By the reign of Edward VI, the
distinctive Italian style of bastion with flanking guns in open chambers or
closed casemates recessed behind the projecting bastion face to form an
`orillon' or ear had been adopted. The Italian style of bastion fortification
was used in English defences as well as in much of Europe for most of the
second half of the 16th century. It was adopted for the town defences of
Berwick upon Tweed and Portsmouth as well as for individual forts.
It is best appreciated at Berwick upon Tweed in its evolving form.
During the 17th century, when Berwick upon Tweed became an important
garrisoned frontier town, the fortifications were improved by the addition of
further earthwork artillery features and the re-modelling of some existing
earthwork defences. The changes were intended to enhance the firepower of the
town, but by the late 17th century the fortifications of Berwick upon Tweed
were obsolete in the face of new designs by the French engineer Marshal
Vauban. Inspired by fears caused by the Jacobite uprising of the mid-18th
century, a final attempt was made in order to update the defences of the town
in order to improve security. The subsequent repairs were minor, but still
significant as they reflect a wider concern for security in the Borders at
this time.
Technological change was rapid during the last quarter of the 19th century.
Ships carried even heavier armament and were protected by even thicker armour
plate. Smaller ships became faster and carried torpedoes and guns became more
and more powerful. Coastal batteries were essentially `fixed' defences. Here,
guns were put on disappearing mountings or mounted high on cliffs with a
pronounced `glacis parapet' to deflect shot over the top of the parapet. They
were armed with breech-loading and high angle guns and with increased emphasis
on quick firers to counter torpedo boats. By the start of World War I, coastal
defences had been rationalized according to gun types, calibres and mountings.
Batteries were armed with guns appropriate to the predicted weight of attack.
Standardized concrete emplacements for 9.2 inch, 6 inch and 4.7 inch and other
types of quick firers were built accordingly.
Berwick upon Tweed is one of the most outstanding fortified towns of western
Europe. Taken together with Berwick Castle and the earlier linear earthwork
known as Spades Mire, the defences of Berwick upon Tweed provide a continuous
sequence spanning more than 700 years. They provide one of the most complete
overviews available anywhere for the understanding of the development of
military architecture.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works, (1963), 563-4
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works 1485-1660 , (1982), 627-8
MacIvor, I, The Fortifications of Berwick upon Tweed, (1972), 27
MacIvor, I, The Fortifications of Berwick upon Tweed, (1972)
MacIvor, I, The Fortifications of Berwick upon Tweed, (1972)
Merriman, M , Summerson, J, The History of the King's Works Volume 4: Berwick upon Tweed, (1982), 613-64
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Northumberland, (1992), 178
MacIvor, I, 'Antiquaries Journal' in The Elizabethan Fortifications of Berwick Upon Tweed, , Vol. 45, (1965), 64-96
MacIvor, I, 'Antiquaries Journal' in The Elizabethan Fortifications of Berwick Upon Tweed, , Vol. 45, (1965), 89-92
MacIvor, I, 'Antiquaries Journal' in The Elizabethan Fortifications of Berwick Upon Tweed, , Vol. 45, (1965), 64-96
Ryder, P F R, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5' in The Cowport, Berwick Upon Tweed, , Vol. 20, (1992), 99-117
Ryder, P F, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol 20' in The Cow Port at Berwick upon Tweed, (1992), 99-116
Berwick upon Tweed Record Office, Various Archive Documents,
DOE, Buildings of Special Hist & Arch Interest,
Title: Berwick upon Tweed
Source Date: 1988
Title: Berwick upon Tweed
Source Date: 1988
Title: Berwick upon Tweed
Source Date: 1988

Source: Historic England

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