Seen from the vantage point of the Scot’s Gate, bridging Berwick High Street, the road layout looks like an illustration from the Highway Code. The broad, once elegant, Georgian street lends itself to dividing into four lanes, to keep the traffic flowing smoothly around the two mini-roundabouts. Neatly painted arrows show the direction of travel for each lane and remind drivers that, though small and only 40m apart, these two junctions are indeed roundabouts.
Artist’s licence suggests that at the end of the eighteenth century only well dressed gentlefolk strolled in the High Street and the only vehicles were stage coaches. The overloaded farm carts, scruffy hand barrows and badly dressed servants must have been just out of the picture.
In the early 1900s cars were a welcome addition to the scene. There is still a horse drawn wagon in this postcard view (half hidden behind the lamp post) but the photographer has chosen to focus on the fine new vehicles parked outside the garage.
The early cars moved slowly and pedestrians still felt free to stand chatting in the road.
By 1968 pedestrians were confined to the pavements and the cobbles had been covered by tarmac. Most traffic on this busy market day is turning right towards the new bridge, aided by a policeman on point duty at the junction.
This view from the same vantage point was taken just after shop closing time. An hour earlier on this sunny afternoon the pavements were busy were people, while the street was a continuous stream of cars, flowing freely thanks to the yellow ‘no parking’ lines and the roundabouts. You need to plan your shopping carefully to avoid crossing the road too often – a slow and hazardous process.
Berwick town centre has suffered badly from competition with town edge shopping parks. It’s a bitter irony that much of the town centre traffic, which discourages strolling and browsing in the High Street shops, is simply people passing through on their way to a retail park.
N.B Berwick High Street is made up of Castlegate – outside the Scots’ Gate and Marygate inside the wall. These views are all technically Marygate.
The 1799 engraving is from Rare Old Prints. The two 1900s views are from the Northumberland County Archives collection and the 1968 postcard is for sale on Ebay.
Click on any image for a closer view.