A canon in an embrasure

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The small village of Berwick grew up in the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria during the 7th & 8th centuries. Although Berwick now stands in England, it has been part of Scotland, being ceded to Scotland in 1018 following the Battle at Carham on Tweed. Between 1296 and 1482 it exchanged hands thirteen times in the many wars between these two countries, before ending up as an English town again. During this period, only Jerusalem was besieged more. Berwick’s location, at the mouth of the River Tweed gave it a great strategic value in those days.

Berwick was once protected by a castle built circa 1160, and later a wall up to 50 feet (15.4 metres) high and 12 feet (3.7 metres) thick which encircled the town. The construction of the town walls was started by King Edward I (1272-1307), known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, who besieged and took Berwick from the Scots in 1296, starting the wall shortly afterwards. His son, King Edward II (1307-1327) continued the work. Later, during a period of Scots control, they were strengthened by King Robert the Bruce in 1320.

By the time Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) came to the throne, cannon had replaced leverage artillery such as the Trebuchet. Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII had already built fortifications to withstand cannon fire, and Elizabeth was to do the same. She engaged the services of Italian engineer Portinari, and a British military engineer, Sir Robert Lee, to plan new artillery-proof defences for Berwick. These new defences were built between 1563 and 1570, although the Cavaliers (see below) were not completed for another 70 years.

Description and illustration of the Ditch and RampartsElizabeth’s defences were to be what would today be called ‘state of the art’. Massive stone walls backed by an earthen Rampart would be behind a large deep water-filled ditch, with a lower face towards any attacker. Beyond the ditch, the ground would slope away. This was called the Glacis. Anything moving there was visible from the Parapet.

The slope of the ditch on the defender’s side was called the Scarp, and on the attacker’s side was called the Counterscarp. The thick stone cladding was called the Revetment. At Berwick the Revetment at the Rampart is 12 feet (3.7 metres) thick. The Covered Way allowed patrols to move without being seen by any attacker. From the Parapet, any movement on the enemy side could be observed.

Plan of the defences for BerwickIllustration showing enfiladingAt intervals along the Ramparts are a series of strong-points which are called Bastions. These acted as gun platforms and were shaped to give a good field of fire. Bastions were sited to give maximum protection from a minimum amount of guns. They also had protected gun positions, called ‘Flankers’ sited to enfilade (fire along) the ditch between Bastions. This would make attackers in the ditch very vulnerable to fire from the defenders. Cumberland, Brass and Windmill are full Bastions, and Meg’s Mount and King’s Mount are Demi-Bastions (Half Bastions).

Windmill BastionOn top of the Bastions are enormous earth platforms called Cavaliers. These were added in 1639. Heavy guns were mounted on these.

The Cavalier on Windmill Bastion gave service in the 20th Century. A coast artillery battery was mounted on it during WW1, and anti-aircraft batteries were set up there during WW2.

Brass Bastion seen from Cumberland BastionCumberland Bastion Flanker

6-Pounder CannonABOVE LEFT: The view from Cumberland Bastion to Brass Bastion. The Cavalier on Brass Bastion shows up nicely in this photograph. The ditch is now a car park.


ABOVE RIGHT: The Cumberland Bastion Flanker facing Brass Bastion. All the Flankers were single storey with two embrasures for cannon. Note how far the face of the Flanker is set back in the Bastion to protect it from direct fire. The cannon in the embrasure is a 6-Pounder (right) dating from 1710. The effects of one of these firing grape-shot along the ditch can easily be imagined.

Brass Bastion FlankerInside Brass Bastion Flanker

ABOVE LEFT: The Brass Bastion Flanker facing the Cumberland Bastion.
ABOVE RIGHT: Looking down from the Ramparts into Kings Mount Flanker. The estuary of the River Tweed is beyond.

Berwick-upon-Tweed on Google Earth.

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