DCSIMG

We can learn a lot from Scotland's 'lost limb'

BERWICK-UPON-TWEED has been described as "Scotland's lost limb". In 1926, Alexander Eddington, in Castles and Historic Homes of The Border, summed up our history: "Berwick, by the middle of the 13th century, was considered a second Alexandria, so extensive was its commerce; in 1296, Edward I killed thousands in Berwick, [then] the greatest merchant city in Scotland sank into a small seaport."

On Good Friday 1296, Edward I colonised a few square miles on the north bank of the mouth of the Tweed, enabling his horses to cross at low tide, after which "ownership" of Berwick alternated between England and Scotland 13 times, ending up under English control in 1482.

Berwick has been besieged more times than Jerusalem. These past seven centuries, the gulf between ownership of and responsibility for Berwick has been wide. As with all formal Acts of Parliament until the late 19th century, the English Book of Common Prayer mentioned Berwick separately: "This book shall be appointed to be used by all that officiate in all parish Churches and Chapels within the Kingdom of England, Dominion of Wales and town of Berwick-upon-Tweed."

We were mentioned in the declaration of war over the Crimea but, due a change in the law, not the peace charter, hence the old chestnut about us still being at war with Russia.

Centuries ago, when a governor of Berwick begged the English parliament for funds to regenerate the town, back came this refusal: "Berwick is in the realm but not of it."

I have a feeling Berwick-upon-Tweed's 21st century moment might have arrived thanks to The Scotsman debate on the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union. The town through which King James entered England to unite the Crowns in 1603, like the Tweed, nourishes the borders of both Scotland and England. Berwick has a theatre and arts centre patronised by folk from both sides of the Border, our football team play in the Scottish league, our rugby teams at Murrayfield.

Power is provided by both Scottish and English energy companies. My parish church stands beside a Church of Scotland, we share in worship, alternate the annual service of remembrance and we hosted a Burns Supper in our parish hall last week.

Our restaurants sell haggis alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; gift shops purvey "See you Jimmy" hats beside flags of St George. One of our middle schools has its own tartan. Our town hall may host St Andrew's celebrations yet Morris Dancers perform by its steps. Trains carry commuters to Newcastle and Edinburgh, equidistant from our town centre. Half our population consider themselves English, half Scottish, although we prefer the term "Berwicker". We are neighbours from two nations living in harmony in one community set on our shared Border.

My plea to the folk of England and Scotland is, before you divorce, come and have some counselling in Berwick-upon-Tweed before it is too late.

This offer is not entirely devoid of self-interest. Being what it is and where it is, map-gazers might think Berwick is smothered in love by both English and Scottish Parliaments. They would be wrong.

Over my 12 years as vicar I have lobbied for the A1 to be dualled, our stretch from Morpeth being almost the only section to remain single-carriageway (little incentive for firms to relocate to Berwick); begged for a place of extended learning, a "miniversity" to regenerate Berwick following the loss of some of our core industries; and pleaded for extra funding as chair of two schools.

Often, government departments on both sides of the Border seem confused as to where to place Berwick. Only this week my wife, in our Northumberland manse, received a Pension guide - Scotland advice booklet directing her to seek help from the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh.

My wife Susan was born in Edinburgh, while I am a Yorkshireman. Our son and daughter were born in Edinburgh but raised in Yorkshire and have made their homes in Berwick.

Our grandchildren have just begun their schooling here. My first parish was in Edinburgh's Wester Hailes in the 1970s. There, I met Wendy Wood, the doughty Scottish Nationalist who used to stride into Berwick, ripping up any English signs and claiming Berwick back as Scotland's "lost limb".

When I first visited her home, she had me wipe my feet vigorously on her doormat, beneath which she had placed a Union Flag!

Change is part of the nature of creation, but there is nothing so unimaginative as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are all the makers of our present history and to learn from Berwick, its geography, history and experience of Scots and English living in harmony, might help our united nation avoid making division the theme of the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union.

• Alan Hughes is vicar of Berwick-upon-Tweed

• THE Scotland 300 Nationhood Debate moves up through the spine of Scotland this week.

Today, hundreds of people will pack the Albert Halls, Stirling, for our second setpiece debate on nationhood. Founder of the new Scottish Democrats, Archie Stirling, takes to a political platform for the first time, with Labour MSP Sylvia Jackson, the SNP's Bruce Crawford and polling expert Professor John Curtice.

Tomorrow, The Scotsman van stops off at Aviemore. Reporters Craig Brown and Lyndsay Moss will be asking residents for their views on Scotland 2007 at Village Green, next to the Cairngorm Hotel, opposite the railway station from 11:30am.

On Thursday, Charles Kennedy, Fergus Ewing and Peter Peacock square up in a big debate at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel in Inverness. Debates continue at the Albert Hall, Ballater, next Tuesday. For tickets, e-mail debate300@scotsman.com or write to Nationhood Debates, The Scotsman, 108 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh. EH8 8AS. State venue and number of tickets required.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page