Call to preserve former Berwick jail at office site

Campaigners are concerned that part of Berwick's history could be lost, as a landmark building is sold by the county council.

Friday, 28th October 2016, 11:00 am

The Wallace Green building, being sold by Northumberland County Council, with best and final bids invited by noon today, ‘is an important historic asset which should be preserved and has much to offer the town’, they say.

Dating from 1844-9, it was designed as Berwick Jail and Courthouse by the well-known Scottish architect Thomas Brown, of Edinburgh.

Most of Brown’s prisons in Scotland are listed, but despite being the only one in England, Berwick is not.

Although the state-of-the-art Victorian prison became council offices in 1892, many details survive, while the exterior, with its cluster of stone chimneys, makes an important contribution to Berwick’s townscape.

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The sale information suggests that ‘a development of 16/17 residential apartments could be achieved, an individual dwelling, a care home or a boutique hotel, all subject to obtaining change of use’.

There is a fear that a conversion scheme would ‘gut’ the building, ‘obliterating the surviving interiors’.

Local councillors, the Civic Society and others are concerned that the potential economic and tourist benefits for the town may be lost if it is sold as a development opportunity or worse, demolished if the sale does not proceed.

A spokesman said: “Berwick has an outstanding heritage and needs a focus for it. The jail could provide the town with an exciting new tourist attraction.

“It could also provide much-needed space for the town’s important archive collection, currently displaced from the adjacent council offices and in unsatisfactory temporary storage.

“The jail is an asset to the town which should not be overlooked, let alone swept away by the forces of short-term speculative development.”

The Wallace Green offices were one of four sites in Berwick to be marketed in June. Part of the authority’s Market Towns Initiative, some buildings are being sold off while others are being refurbished.