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Customs Watch House

A Grade II Listed Building in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.7656 / 55°45'56"N

Longitude: -2.004 / 2°0'14"W

OS Eastings: 399849

OS Northings: 652477

OS Grid: NT998524

Mapcode National: GBR G1FS.Y0

Mapcode Global: WH9YK.5BZT

Entry Name: Customs Watch House

Listing Date: 7 September 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1410505

Location: Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, TD15

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Berwick-upon-Tweed

Built-Up Area: Berwick-upon-Tweed

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Berwick Holy Trinity and St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle

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A later C18 or early C19 customs watch house associated with a group of contemporary listed buildings including the Grade I listed Customs House.


Materials: squared and rubble red sandstone with quoins; slate roof covering, and some later red-brick infill.

Plan: square, with a main entrance giving direct entry to a stair, with a room off to the right on the ground and first floor.

Exterior: a two-storey, two-bay, building under a pavilion roof with a substantial chimney stack to the east. The main (west) elevation has a tall narrow entrance at the left with window openings at ground and first floor level to the right; these have slightly projecting stone sills and were originally taller, now partially infilled with brick. It is thought that the windows were originally shuttered, and a metal fastening to the left of the ground floor window is a remnant of this. Windows on this elevation give views across the Tweed Estuary. The south elevation facing seaward, has similar openings but they are centrally placed and also partially infilled. A metal fixing, probably to house a flag pole is fitted at the left end of this elevation. The north elevation has a small, high window opening to the right probably lighting the stair, and a wide ground floor opening to the left, giving access to the former adjacent single storey range. The east, landward facing elevation, is blind except for an inserted opening low down. All openings are boarded over.

Interior: inspection not possible.


This building is considered to be of later C18 or early C19 in date, and is depicted on the 1850 tithe map, where it forms the southern section of a long, rectangular range aligned roughly north-south. It is also present on the 1852 Board of Health map situated opposite two slipways, subsequently removed, and on the 1898 Ordnance Survey map. Other single storey buildings had been added to the east elevation by the latter date, also visible on historic photographs and as building lines on the masonry today. These buildings were demolished in the mid or later C20, leaving only the present building standing. Although the applicant describes the building as a coastguard watch tower, a Land Registry map dated 1901 describes it as a Customs Watch House, part of a wider Customs complex which also includes a Customs Boathouse attached to the east side. The building’s location immediately at the mouth of the Tweed Estuary is an ideal situation for such a building.

The Navigation Acts (1650-1697) sought to protect national commerce, and after 1651 required imports to be carried by English-owned ships or ships owned by the nation of origin of the cargo. One of the Acts also required that all European goods bound for America or other colonies must be shipped through England first and duties imposed; imports of certain type including sugar, indigo, rice and molasses also had to be landed and tax paid before the vessels could continue their way to other countries. From the late C18 custom regulation was enforced by ships operated by the Customs Service. The effects of this can be recognised in the operation of the Berwick Customs House which saw an increase in custom revenue from £1000 in 1728 to £6000 in 1798, and in 1799 the Customs House (listed Grade I) employed thirty one people including six ‘tide waiters’ and twelve ‘coast waiters and preventative officers along the coast'. This provides the context for the construction of the Berwick Customs Watch House. The Navigation Acts were repealed in the mid C19.

The applicant also states that the building is known as The Mortuary, which suggests that the building may have more recently served as a mortuary for washed up bodies similar to the example on the beach at Saltburn.

Reasons for Listing

This later C18 or early C19 customs watch house is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic: as a relatively intact maritime building which represents later C18 attempts at combating smuggling and enforcing custom regulation

* Rarity: it is one of a very small number of customs watch houses remaining around the shores of England

* Group value: it is part of a wider group of contemporary Berwick river front buildings including the Grade I listed Customs House.

* Architectural: although a modest building, it retains the key characteristics of its type, and its original function is highly readable.

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