The Holdman Wall and the Elizabethan Pier

Berwick Through Time

In 1337 a ship belonging to Walter Brekheved of [King's] Lynn, carrying grain for Berwick, 'was driven by a storm against a wall called Holdman, with such force that she broke ... and all the grain was lost.’ The wall was one of a series of piers built at the harbour entrance. In 1334 King Edward III paid for repairing 'a cross called Holdman’s Cross at the entrance to the harbour for the safety of ships’. This was probably a beacon and in 1505 Berwick's Guild ordered 'a beacon for to be set up upon Holdman wall, and there to be maintained for the knowledge and sure coming in of ships into the haven'. Both the wall and the beacon would have needed continual maintenance and often had to be replaced completely.

Two leading marks on the approach to Berwick. Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, 1583.

The timber reinforcement shows clearly on the 1580 map.

By 1576 the pier was derelict and in 1577 work began on the new structure shown on the Elizabethan map. It was described as a triumph of engineering:

'Fashioned like unto a broad wall. Both the sides thereof are set and faced with broched stones... filled with weighty stones... On either side, within the filling, arise posts of timber securely fastened... Betwixt the said postes, and overthwart the work, the filling is arched and bound with mighty stones fast pinned togyther... On the top there is laid a wall plate of timber lying along the sides of the work... Wherin is coupled a longe beam, layd overthwart the work and top, which beam is sunk in, and fastened to the said posts and wall plates, to bynde and holde the whole masse togyther... The top is covered with broched flags, closely arched and set in strong clay, well rammed and laid under the flags, to save the filling from the flash and fall of the billow and water, that in storms will bounce over the work.' (SP 59/20 f.5)

By 1580 the pier was finished 'to the bend', as shown on the 1580 map, but after this work ceased and only ten years later the structure was fast disintegrating. The project did not continue, in part because it was thought to disrupt the salmon fishing but also because of the expense.

The pier continued to decay, the stones being quarried for use in building works, but its line remained obvious and itsremains were still visible when in 1808 the Mayor and Burgesses petitioned Parliament for help to rebuild 'the Pier formerly built to shelter the Harbour from storms and to keep the river Tweed within its channel [which] is of late years gone to decay'.

The stonework of the pier is still obvious on this detail from a military map of 1725.

About the author 

Catherine Kent

Dr Catherine Kent is a historian with a background in architecture. She enjoys unpicking the history of buildings and landscapes and has raised suspicion among Berwick residents by staring too long at their garden walls. Catherine is a partner in Robin Kent Architecture and Conservation and an Honorary Fellow in the Department of History at Durham University.