Coordinates: 55°45′N 2°30′W / 55.750°N 2.500°W / 55.750; -2.500
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Siorrachd Bhearaig
Coordinates: 55°45′N 2°30′W / 55.750°N 2.500°W / 55.750; -2.500
County townBerwick (pre–1482)
Greenlaw (1596–1661, 1696-1903)
Duns (1661-1696,1903–1975)
 • Total457 sq mi (1,184 km2)
 Ranked 20th of 34
Chapman code

Berwickshire (/ˈbɛrɪkʃər, -ʃɪər/; Scottish Gaelic: Siorrachd Bhearaig) or the County of Berwick is a historic county, registration county and lieutenancy area in south-eastern Scotland, on the English border. The county takes its name from Berwick-upon-Tweed, its original county town, which was part of Scotland at the time of the county's formation in the twelfth century, but became part of England in 1482 after several centuries of swapping back and forth between the two kingdoms. After the loss of Berwick, Duns and Greenlaw both served as county town at different periods.

Berwickshire County Council existed from 1890 until 1975, when the area became part of the Borders region, with most of the historic county becoming part of the lower-tier Berwickshire district. Berwickshire district was abolished in 1996, when all the districts in the Borders region merged to become the Scottish Borders council area.

The low-lying part of Berwickshire between the Tweed and the Lammermuirs is known as "the Merse", from an old Scots word for a floodplain, and this name is sometimes extended to the county as a whole.[1] Inhabitants are called "Merse-men".[1] Berwickshire borders Midlothian to the west, East Lothian to the north, the North Sea to the east, and Roxburghshire and the English county of Northumberland to the south.


St Abb's Head on the Berwickshire coast

The terrain of Berwickshire is characterised by a series of low hills and agricultural land, with a number of small towns scattered throughout the county. The Lammermuir Hills traverse the border with East Lothian; it is here that Meikle Says Law, the highest point in the county at 535 m (1,755 ft), can be found. The River Tweed forms the border with England to the south, with the exception of a small section in the vicinity of Berwick-upon-Tweed (formerly the river formed the entirety of the border out to the North Sea); other major rivers include the Eye Water, Whiteadder Water, Dye Water, Watch Water, Eden Water and Blackadder Water.


Between the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, the land between the rivers Forth and Tweed came under Scottish control.[2] The town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was made a royal burgh by David I (reigned 1124–1153), and it would appear that the shire of Berwick, or Berwickshire, was also created during David's reign. The shire covered the town of Berwick plus a largely rural area to the north-west of it, and corresponded to the medieval province of Merse.[3][4]

After the town of Berwick had finally been ceded to English control in 1482, the functions of the county town (principally holding the sheriff court) were initially shared between Duns and Lauder, until 1596 when Greenlaw was declared the county town by James VI.[5] In 1661 the county town was moved to Duns, but in 1696 it was moved back to Greenlaw.[6][7]

Town Hall, Greenlaw: Built 1829 as County Hall.

Commissioners of Supply were established for each Scottish shire in 1667. County Hall was built at Greenlaw in 1829 to serve as the courthouse and meeting place for the commissioners, replacing an earlier building on an adjoining site. The building was paid for by William Purves-Hume-Campbell of Purves Hall, near Greenlaw, who was keen for Greenlaw to retain its position as county town.[8] However, Greenlaw remained a very small town, and Duns was clearly the larger town by the nineteenth century. In 1853 an Act of Parliament was passed allowing the courts and commissioners' meetings to be held at Duns as well as at Greenlaw.[9] Another courthouse, known as County Buildings, was subsequently built at 8 Newtown Street in Duns in 1856.[10][11]

County Council[edit]

County Buildings, 8 Newtown Street, Duns

Elected county councils were established in 1890 under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889, taking over most of the functions of the commissioners. Berwickshire County Council held its first meeting on 22 May 1890 at County Hall in Greenlaw, when it decided by 18 votes to 12 that all subsequent meetings should be held at Duns.[12] The county council therefore based itself at the County Buildings in Duns, sharing the premises with its continuing use as a sheriff court. The county council subsequently established additional offices in various converted houses along Newtown Street.[13] A modern extension was added to County Buildings in 1967.[11]

Greenlaw was still considered the official county town after 1890, despite the county council meeting in Duns and courts being held at both towns. An Act of Parliament in 1903 finally revoked Greenlaw's status as county town and declared Duns to be the county town for all purposes.[14][15]

At the time of the county council's abolition in 1975, Berwickshire contained four burghs and three districts:[16]

District Council[edit]

District (1975–1996)
Lieutenancy area (1975–)
 • Created16 May 1975
 • Abolished31 March 1996
 • Succeeded byScottish Borders
 • HQDuns
Contained within
 • RegionBorders

Berwickshire County Council was abolished in 1975 under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, which reorganised local government across Scotland into upper-tier regions and lower-tier districts. Berwickshire was incorporated into the Borders Region. Borders was divided into four districts, one of which was named Berwickshire, with borders which broadly resembled those of the historic county, but excluded the parish of Nenthorn, which went to Roxburgh district, and the parishes of Channelkirk, Earlston, Lauder, Legerwood, and Mertoun, which went to Ettrick and Lauderdale district.[16] The Berwickshire lieutenancy area was adjusted from being the historic county to being the new district at the same time.[17]

Berwickshire District Council was based at the former County Buildings at 8 Newtown Street in Duns, which became known as the Council Offices.[18]

The Borders region and its four district councils, including Berwickshire, were abolished in 1996, merging to form the present Scottish Borders council area.[19] The Berwickshire lieutenancy area continues to be defined as the area of the pre-1996 district rather than the pre-1975 county.[20] The former council offices in Duns continue to be used for some departments of Scottish Borders Council.[21]

Political control[edit]

The first election to Berwickshire District Council was held in 1974, initially operating as a shadow authority alongside the outgoing authorities until it came into its powers on 16 May 1975. Throughout the council's existence a majority of the seats on the council were held by Conservatives:[22]

Party in control Years
Conservative 1975–1996

Coat of arms[edit]

Coat of arms of Berwickshire County Council from 1890 until 1975.
Coat of arms of Berwickshire District Council from 1975 until 1996.

The county council of Berwickshire was formed in 1890 by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889, and applied for a grant of arms the same year. The grant, by Lord Lyon King of Arms was made on 10 October.

The coat of arms shows a bear chained to a wych tree, forming a pun on the name of the original county town of Berwick.[23] Upon the abolition of Berwickshire County Council, the arms were regranted to Berwickshire District Council.[24] When the district council was abolished the arms reverted to the Crown.


The East Coast Mainline as it crosses the border

The East Coast Main Line railway line passes through the county, running roughly parallel with the coast. From the railway's opening in 1846 there were a number of small stations within Berwickshire, but they were all closed by 1964. A rebuilt Reston railway station opened on this stretch of line in 2022, being the only railway station within the historic county (apart from Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station which lies within the area ceded from Berwickshire to England in 1482). The Berwickshire Railway formerly serviced the county, however this closed following damage caused by a violent storm in 1948.[25] The nearest open stations are in Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The A1 road runs roughly parallel to the railway and provides access to Edinburgh in the north and to the south Berwick-upon-Tweed, continuing on to Newcastle. The A68 and A697 serve the towns of western Berwickshire.

Civil parishes[edit]

Berwickshire in 1854, with an index to the parishes
Agricultural map of Berwickshire (1794)



Typical Berwickshire scenery near Greenlaw

The Berwickshire News is published weekly, and numerous organisations and groups have Berwickshire in their titles (i.e.: the Berwickshire Housing Association, Berwickshire Sports Council).

The Berwickshire Civic Society is campaigned for road signs at the entrances to the county to have notices added saying "You are now entering the ancient county of Berwickshire", and they hold an annual Keep Berwickshire Tidy Campaign, judged each April.

The high school west of Duns is named Berwickshire High School, and has been open since 1896. Together with Eyemouth High School they run a rugby team under the name of Berwickshire schools.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path runs from Cockburnspath to Berwick-upon-Tweed (28 miles; 45 km).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Merse". Dictionaries of the Scots Language. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  2. ^ Barrow, G. S. W. (2003). The Kingdom of the Scots: Government, Church and Society from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-7486-1803-3.
  3. ^ Davies, Norman (2000). The Isles: A History. London: Papermac. ISBN 978-0-333-69283-7.[page needed]
  4. ^ Chalmers, George (1810). Caledonia. London: Cadell and Davies. p. 213.
  5. ^ Lewis, Samuel (1846). A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland. London. pp. 124–151.
  6. ^ Brown, Keith. "Act declaring Duns the head burgh of the shire, 3 April 1661". The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707. University of St Andrews. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  7. ^ Brown, Keith. "Act declaring the burgh of Greenlaw head burgh of the shire of Berwick, 9 October 1696". The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707. University of St Andrews. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  8. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Court House Greenlaw (Category A Listed Building) (LB10492)". Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  9. ^ The Berwickshire Courts Act 1853 (16 & 17 Vict. c. 27): An Act for empowering the Sheriff and Commissary of Berwickshire to hold courts at Dunse, and for other purposes
  10. ^ "Multum in parvo". Jedforest and Teviotdale Record. Jedburgh. 29 July 1856. p. 3. On Tuesday last, the foundation stone of the New County Buildings at Dunse was laid by William Hay, Esq., the superior of the town, with masonic honours.
  11. ^ a b Historic Environment Scotland. "Former Duns Sheriff Court excluding flat-roofed extension adjoining to east, 8 Newtown Street, Duns (Category C Listed Building) (LB26556)". Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  12. ^ "Berwickshire County Council". Berwick Advertiser. 23 May 1890. p. 2.
  13. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "County Offices, 14 Newtown Street, Duns (LB26558)". Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  14. ^ Berwickshire County Town Act 1903 (3 Edw. 7, c. 5)
  15. ^ "The County Town". Berwickshire News. Duns. 14 July 1903. p. 3.
  16. ^ a b "Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973",, The National Archives, 1973 c. 65, retrieved 22 November 2022
  17. ^ "The Lord-Lieutenants Order 1975",, The National Archives, SI 1975/428, retrieved 27 November 2022
  18. ^ "No. 23879". The Edinburgh Gazette. 31 October 1995. p. 2758.
  19. ^ "Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994",, The National Archives, 1994 c. 39, retrieved 16 December 2022
  20. ^ "The Lord-Lieutenants (Scotland) Order 1996",, The National Archives, SI 1996/731, retrieved 16 December 2022
  21. ^ "Social work offices - Berwickshire adult services". Scottish Borders Council. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  22. ^ "Compositions calculator". The Elections Centre. 4 March 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  23. ^ R.M. Urquhart (1973). Scottish Burgh and County Heraldry. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  24. ^ R.M. Urquhart (1979). Scottish Civic Heraldry. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  25. ^ John Thomas revised J S Paterson, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 6, Scotland, the Lowlands and the Borders, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1984, ISBN 0 946537 12 7
  26. ^ Prior to 1891 Oldhamstocks was partly in Berwickshire and had a detached portion at Butterdean of 1,417 acres (5.73 km2). The detached portion was transferred to Coldingham, while the main part of the parish is now wholly within East Lothian. See Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, by Francis Groome, 2nd Edition, 1896. Article on Oldhamstocks

External links[edit]