Guild of Freemen Of Berwick-upon-Tweed



In 1331 Edward 11 appointed justiciaries to conserve the peace and 'To declare and perambulate the ancient bounds between the kingdoms of England and Scotland'. The original Bounds of Berwick were given in the Charter of  Robert Bruce, but the present Bounds were defined in the truce of 1438. It is probable that bounds were patrolled by the garrison from that date. In 1542 it was stated that the Bounds were to be perambulated so often as to keep them well known.

After the 1604 Charter the burgesses set up stones and dug ditches to mark the bounds of their property. In 1609 they rode the Bounds for the first time. At first this was twice a year, which later became once per year on 1st. May or, if a Sunday, on 2nd May. The Mayor was allowed to spend £20 on a feast at Michaelmas. In 1661 and 1667 this fell upon a Sunday and the Guild authorised that the money be spent upon a dinner following the Riding of the Bounds. The event became a festival with the town bells rung and cannons fired. The Mayor provided ribbons for the horses and the Town waits (musicians) welcomed the Mayor and other dignitaries back on their return to the Scotsgate.

Traditionally, horse races followed the ceremony. This was believed to commemorate the crossing of the Border by Margaret Tudor to marry James 1V in 1503, when it is stated that on crossing the Border 'leaping, wrestling and cudgel racing took place'. Except for the period from 1726 to 1729, when it was cancelled due to lack of funds, the ceremony has continued. The official ceremony since 1835 has been the responsibility of the Borough Council and,  while horses still ride, the ceremony is more muted in modern times. The Freemen now ‘ride the Bounds’ in buses and then meet together for lunch.

There are three road crossing points on the border with Scotland. At each of these there were tolls where fees were collected. Due to the difference in law between England and Scotland, they were also famous for marriage ceremonies. Lamberton Toll was at one time more popular than Gretna Green and as late as 1844 there were 150 marriages in the year. They were also depots for smugglers, whisky being the most favoured article.