Let's Build Berwick Castle
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
T. E. Lawrence
An economist once told me, "There is only one way to increase the wealth of a system [such as a town]: money has to come into your system from outside. There are only two ways to do this: either make things and export them, or persuade people to come to your system and part with their money."
Berwick is the most northerly town in England. It's a fabulous place but has lost much of its traditional industry and the jobs that go with it. This is due to our relatively isolated position, improved access to transport, and the way all industries have become less localised. Over the centuries, for many reasons, towns and villages have "disappeared" because the reason for their existence ended.
Berwick was once the hub of bustling agricultural, fishing and manufactory businesses serving a 20 mile radius and further. Sadly, no more. Berwickers often hanker after the "good old days" (whenever that was), remember the independent shops and bemoan the charity shops, or worse, empty shops that now replace them. Sad though that may be, many other towns including tourism honey pots like York, suffer the same problems. It is of no use complaining however. Berwick is no York. It has to reinvent itself to progress. It has to find a new raison d'etre.
In an ideal world, Berwick would be able to attract new businesses. This is not happening on any large scale, certainly not enough to counter the continuing closure of "large" established businesses. The jobs that exist are mainly part-time and poorly paid.
There is no reason why any number of firms could not set up in Berwick, especially those that are internet based and so do not rely on the transport of goods; the lack of a dualled A1 may be a deterrent. So in the short to medium term, while it must continue to be encouraged, it is my opinion that we cannot rely on private business to regenerate the town.
Locals and visitors alike ask me why, with the rich tapestry of history we have woven behind us, we do not attract more visitors. This is something of concern to Northumberland as a whole, not just Berwick. Is recent surveys,
41% of visitors to Northumberland stated that the reason was for our heritage, yet only 4% of domestic visits within England are to the North East. This suggests a huge descrepancy between actual and potential market share.
A major problem is Berwick (and Northumberland) has no money to spend on the advertising needed to attract people to the town. This is not helped by the impression one gets that the official tourism bodies have forgotten us; Berwick gets scant mention in any brochures for Northumberland. For them, the tourist trail stops at Bamburgh and Holy Island and so, it is often the case that people stumble upon Berwick. Another problem is that over the years, for various reasons, Berwick does not have the infrastructure and facilties that the modern tourist demands. Thirdly, despite having a heritage second to none, very little is left of it. In short, visitors enjoy Berwick, but there is no "unique selling point" that brings an instant image to the outsider's mind. Berwick has no "Alnwick Castle and Gardens". Yes we have a unique set of Elizabethan town walls but that does not conjure an instant vision in the same way.
So often, the "chicken-or-egg" scenario is forwarded. Hotels and other tourist businesses wil not come to the town unless there are the visitors, but the visitors won't come without the facilities! It is not intended to demean the many great projects and events that many people and groups organise, but none are truly "unique"; none will make the would be visitor think, "We HAVE to go there to see that!"
The Build Berwick Castle project means to correct this.
The project envisages the creation of hundreds of construction jobs during the building phase and then many others to run it. The visitors it would attract would kick-start the general tourism sector in the town and area thus attracting more non-tourism businesses. I would like to make it clear that I am not doing this for any great personal profit. It is for the community as a whole.
The Vision Thing
In short, the idea is to build a full-scale replica of Berwick Castle, based on the years of research I have undertaken and written about. The proposed location would be on Carlin Braes near Castle Hills House on what appears to be an open field with a similar topography to the original's location. Access could be directly from the A1 bypass.
This project could be a solution to so many of Berwick's problems: lack of jobs, young people leaving the town, stagnation and disillusion. If you've read this far, I'm guessing you are intrigued to know more. Thank you. My vision is for a full size replica of Berwick Castle and can be outlined thus:
A major tourist attraction that will draw thousands of visitors to Berwick. Discover the history of this major border fortress and what life was like in medieval Berwick in an outlying recreation of Bondington, a long disappeared village in the area.
The establishment of a "heritage college" at which students of all ages can learn anything from tourism to traditional crafts such as traditional stonemasonry and woodworking. These students would get the experience of helping build the castle. The presence of young people in town bringing outside money revitalises the town's businesses and gives local youth a new opportunity on their doorstep.
Education. A vital part of the project will be to bring to the children of the area and elsewhere, awareness of the significance of Berwick in the shaping of both Scottish and English history.
There is huge potential for use by the film and TV industries. At the time of writing, a major Hollywood franchise were filming at Alnwick and Bamburgh.
Accomodation. Possibly either/or luxury accomodation or a heritage experience of staying in an "authentic" manner complete with straw matress, cold and cold running water (from the walls!), etc.
The construction of a castle is a pretty remarkable concept. Just the publicity this project could garner would be fabulous. I will be launching a serious publicity campaign to promote the project. This in itself will bring much needed atttention to the town.
Then and now. Berwick in the 1930s compared to today.
Possible location plan and artist impressions of the new Berwick Castle. (Click on the pictures for enlanged pop-ups.)
There have been several sources of inspiration.
Guédelon in Burgundy, France. This project to build a small castle in the local style using only 13th century methods was started in 1997. It has a projected 25 year build time. Despite being it the middle of a forest accessible only by road, it attracts 300,000 visitors per year.
The Middelaldercentret (Middle Ages Centre) in Nykøbing Falster, Denmark is now in it 25th year. It consists of a typical village and port set in the early 15th century with technogy of the ages demonstrated.
A second Middle Ages Centre is situated on the island of Bornholm.
Middelaldercentret, Nykøbing Falster, Denmark.
While portraying a completely different era, Beamish Museum is well known in this area and is the first open air museum of its kind in Britain, opening its doors in 1972. Its founder Frank Atkinson found inspiration from Scandinavian folk museums. It now attracts some 670,000 visitors a year.
Many other similar attractions have opened subsequently, such as the excellent Weald and Downland museum.
Weald and Downland
Open Air Museum, West Sussex
It will be, of course, no easy matter to achieve this project. I will need to have some serious sdiscussions with various parties to see if this is theoretically possible, but I believe the benefits are plain to see. As they say, there are n problems; merely solutions to be found. I will need expert help in the coming future to advise and assist in this. Some of those "solutions to be found will address things like:
License to crenellate???
Of these, obviously funding is the biggest challenge. The Heritage Lottery Fund may be able to help but I see this as something largely funded by donations and sponsorship. Hence the need to create a buzz and hopefully attract some philanthropic millionaires!
If anyone who sees this can seriously assist in any way, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
9% UK GDP is from tourism, in 2009 generating £127bn. (Source)
70% of adults in England have visited a heritage site in the last 12 months. (Source, p.1)
41% of visitors to Northumberland in a recent survey stated that the reason was for our heritage. (Source, Chart 3, p.6)
The average daily spend per visit in Northumberland is £51. (Source, p.3)
Of all physical attractions visited in Northumberland, heritage sites are by far the most popular, in particularm Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne and Alnwick Castle. By comparison, Berwick has no mention in the statistics apart from (presumably) other. (Source, Chart 4, p.7 )
Only 4% of domestic visits within England are to the North East. (Source, p.2)
Only 2% of overseas visits to England are to the North East. (Source, p.5)
In 2006, 30% of inbound visitors planned to see famous castles, churches, monuments and historic houses. This is more than theatre, opera, ballet and concerts (10%), Sport’s activities (11%) and museums and art galleries (23%). Only shopping is more popular. (Source, p.7)