Northernmost England. Maybe.

On January 18, 2010 · 1 Comments

The northernmost town in England is Berwick-upon-Tweed. However, due to geography and history it also holds a lot in common with Scotland. First, notice it’s peculiar location along the River Tweed: specifically the northern side of the River Tweed. How did a little piece of England find its way to the opposite side of a river long considered Scottish?

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Berwick-upon-Tweed was once part of Scotland, then England, then Scotland, then England again and so forth, well, you get the point. In fact it switched sides more than a dozen times. The Independent provided a concise summary of the changing of hands in a 2008 article, "Swapping sides: the English town that wants to be Scottish."

  • 973 Berwick is formally granted to Scotland’s King Kenneth II by Edgar, King of England
  • 1174 Paid as part of a ransom to Henry II of England to buy the freedom of William the Lion
  • 1189 Sold back to Scotland to raise money for the Crusades
  • 1296 Captured by England’s Edward I after long siege
  • 1318 Recaptured by the Scots, under the command of James Douglas
  • 1333 English retake town in battle of Haildon Hill
  • 1462 Recaptured by the Scots
  • 1482 Richard, Duke Of Gloucester (the future Richard III) retakes Berwick, placing it under English administration
  • 1551 Town made into a self-governing county corporate

History didn’t end in 1511 of course. Berwickshire (now part of the Scottish Borders) was a traditional county of Scotland. Berwick-upon-Tweed, had been its county town and namesake. England didn’t formally annex Berwick-upon-Tweed perhaps hoping to avoid additional conflict, but effectively controlled and administered it. This distinction became largely symbolic with the 1707 union that formed the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Even so, the evolution of Berwick-upon-Tweed as "English" proceeded slowly and delicately. It remained a sore point for many people in Scotland who never forgot its situation even into the modern era. It was handled as a standalone entity for the longest time by England and it wasn’t even included in Northumberland for parliamentary purposes until 1885. Legislative Acts passed in the 1970’s made it clear that references to England included Berwick-upon-Tweed so its status has been resolved even apparently without explicit declaration. Berwick-upon-Tweed seems to have become a part of England by accretion.

View Northernmost England in a larger map

Should it be part of England? While history places Berwick-upon-Tweed in England today, geography create a lot of tugs in the opposite direction. I have drawn a straight line of latitude from the town’s northern edge along the North Sea, the current northernmost point in England. This line places the town nearly on the same latitude as Glasgow (Scotland’s largest city) and just south of Edinburgh (Scotland’s capital). Berwick-upon-Tweed is only 57 miles away from Edinburgh but 346 miles away from London. In fact, it’s closer to any point in Scotland except for remote corners of Shetland Islands than it is to London.

Cultural ties to Scotland continue to exist after having been handed-down along the centuries. Some of these were explored in a BBC article, "A Tale of One Town,"

The ‘two-country’ identity of the town is not just confined to history. Berwick is under English law and has a mayor rather than a provost, as there would be in Scotland. But the robes are purple instead of scarlet, which goes back to the town’s time as a Royal Scottish Borough

The sports world weighs-in on the topic too. Berwick-upon-Tweed is the only town in England that fields a team that plays in the Scottish Football League: the Berwick Rangers. Their rugby union team, Berwick RFC, also plays north of the border in the Scottish Rugby Union’s National League.

All of this might be considered a quirky anachronism except for the rise of Scottish nationalism in recent decades. Were Scotland ever to achieve self-determination, Berwick-upon-Tweed and its 12,000 residents would be right at the forefront again, a flash-point on the northern banks of the River Tweed.

On January 18, 2010 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Northernmost England. Maybe.”

  1. Congratulations on Your website, well done indeed! I am also a lover of Geography, the only subject of which… the last issues are SURELY the best ones!
    Atlas was my favourite reading since I was 5 years old. Now (47) I still remember all capitals and flags (with some hesitation in the states of Oceania) and I am able to draw a map of all Europe, with the boundaries of all states, without looking at the atlas.
    Your section of the borders is very interesting and original.
    I invite You to visit my blog without hurry and to discover hundreds of curious situations.
    Best wishes from an Estonian living in North Italy.

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