Berwick

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The '-w-' in best-known town with the place-name Berwick is silent. The whole name is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, whose vowel is the same as that in 'get': 'BE-rick', IPA: /'bɛ rɪk/.

  • The town most usually called Berwick has the fuller title of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It lies mostly on the north bank of the river Tweed, which forms the majority of the boundary between England and Scotland. This made Berwick, its river crossing and its castle strategically important in the Anglo-Scottish wars which were endemic until the union of the crowns in 1603 at the accession of James VI and I to the throne of England.
There is a resultant geographical oddity. Since 1482, the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed has lain in England as its most northerly town, while the county of Berwickshire (pronounced 'BE-rick-sher') lies in Scotland. Berwick is in the county of Northumberland.
There is also an oddity of historical knowledge in the frequently cited (but false) belief that Berwick-upon-Tweed was at war with Russia until the late twentieth century. It is said that the declaration of war on Russia in 1853 (the Crimean War) was made in the names of "England, Scotland and Berwick-upon-Tweed", as a result of the mixed history of the Border; and that the Treaty of Paris (1856), which ended the War, was signed only in the names of "England and Scotland", leaving Berwick apparently still at war with Russia. As inspection of the documents by the BBC showed that neither document in reality mentions Berwick-upon-Tweed. So the subsequent arrangement of a supposed separate peace between Russia and Berwick ("Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds," Robert Knox, Mayor of Berwick) was entirely unnecessary. In any case, the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 had already made it clear that all references to England included Berwick, and there had never been any need to include the town separately in official documents of the United Kingdom.
  • There is another Berwick in Britain with a railway station. This is in East Sussex, and is said to be pronounced 'BURwick'. If you are booking a railway ticket to the town on the main line between London and Edinburgh, be sure to ask for "a ticket to Berwick-upon-Tweed", or you may get the wrong thing.
  • There are various other towns with this name in countries where Britons settled - at least nine in the USA, two in Australia, three in Canada and so on.
  • Berwick can also be used as a surname and, unusually, a forename.
Etymological note: Berwick, originally, in Old English, bere ('barley') + wīc ('farm') (Mills 1991)