The History of Leith

September 24, 2004

Berwick Upon Tweed Fortifications – Berwick Upon Tweed, Northumberland

The fortification of Berwick gives the best impression of what the walls of Leith were like in 1560.

The substantially Elizabethan military fortifications around the old town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed are a fascinating way of exploring the troubled and intricate history of this border town. When they were built from 1558 onwards, the threat of attack from Scotland was once again a real one and the earlier Tudor earth ramparts and medieval stone walls were incorporated into the latest technological design for defense.

The old Castle and the northern third of the town, together with the harbour, were abandoned outside the new fortifications in order to cut the enormous cost and maintenance of the enterprise so that still today, you must pass through Scotsgate to reach the north of the town.

During the sixteenth century altogether, a total of £250,000 was spent on the protective fortifications at Berwick, proving how important strategically and historically the town was. Although not in the end needed during Elizabeth’s reign, the fortifications came under attack under King Charles and during the Civil War, Berwick was a garrisoned frontier town once again.

In 1717 the building of the Ravensdowne Barracks were commenced in response to requests by Berwick Corporation. These were among the first purpose-built barracks to be erected. Previously, soldiers in the town had been lodged in inns or even private houses, and this had caused friction between the towns-people and the military.

A walk around the fortifications emphasizes the difference between the medieval walls and towers of many old towns and the gun-emplacements and batteries of Berwick. The triangular bastions and earth and stone ramparts provided solid defense against cannon and good offensive positions from which to fire from.

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