The history of York is the history of England – so said King George VI, who, besides being the father of our current queen, became known by millions worldwide as the central character in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech. Such a glowing tribute need not, however, give cause for any feeling of inadequacy in this more northerly neck of the woods.
The history of Berwick-upon-Tweed, after all, is the history of England and Scotland. As everyone knows, and as its walls bear eloquent testimony, history is part of Berwick’s very essence.
This burgh featured prominently in the strategic thinking of an entire university syllabus of British monarchs; from David I of Scotland to Elizabeth I of England, and with more Malcolms, Williams, Alexanders, Edwards, Roberts, James, Henrys, Richards and Marys in between, than you can shake a sceptre at.
It also recovered some of its standing during Oliver Cromwell’s rule in the 1650s, and although its importance had probably waned by the time George became fashionable in the 18th century, even then, the danger of its falling into Jacobite hands was sufficient to concentrate the minds of not a few Whitehall mandarins.
How many other municipalities do you know which can rival Jerusalem in the number of times they have been besieged? Where else can you find a persistent rumour that a town of this size has spent the last 150 years in a state of war with Imperial Russia? Berwick without a History Society would be like Hollywood without a film studio, Vienna without an orchestra, or St Andrew’s without a golf club.
The 2016-17 programme gets under way on October 19, with a talk from Scottish historian Mike Fraser, who among other things in recent years has cast fascinating light on the work of Berwick’s Military Service Tribunal.
In a joint meeting with the Civic Society, his talk is entitled Northumberland’s Forgotten Appeaser: Viscount Runciman of Doxford’s Mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938.
Athletics coach and sports aficionado Henry Gray has kindly agreed to fill us in on Berwick’s Local Sporting Heroes on November 16; especially timely perhaps, with the 50th anniversary of Berwick Rangers’ Scottish Cup triumph over Glasgow Rangers drawing ever nearer.
Then on December 21, you’re unlikely to regret making space in your Christmas schedule for a talk by Berwick’s longest-serving MP, Lord Beith, focusing on John Wesley’s long-term impact on the local community; Methodists in Berwick: From Wesley to Where? Moving into the New Year, on January 18, we’re due to learn about the illustrious monk and bishop who inspired not only the composition of the Lindisfarne Gospels, but also Britain’s best-loved building, Durham Cathedral; Rediscovering Cuthbert – the Man behind the Saint is from Holy Island historian John Woodhurst.
On February 15, Howard Culley has been asked to talk about the distinguished part played by two of his forebears in Northumberland’s Agricultural Revolution.
This is followed by our meeting on March 15, with another of Berwick’s most dedicated public servants, Linda Bankier from the Record Office, for an overview of Berwick 900 and the Our Families Project.
Finally, it may be tempting to think local history became less enthralling after the 1707 Act of Union; but on April 19, Tony Barrow has been landed with the task of scuppering this quaint notion, with his talk entitled Smuggling on the North East Coast during the 18th Century.
Source: Berwick Advertiser