The Red Hall '“ the devoted merchants fight to the death
Wilson's Tales of the Borders is almost 500 stories celebrating our region's history, legends and people. First serialised in the Berwick Advertiser from the 1830s, it became a best-selling series. The Wilson's Tales Project is retelling the stories and serialising a selection for today's readers.
PREVIOUSLY: In 1296 King Edward I invades Scotland with an assault on Berwick. The wedding of Isabella, daughter of a Flemish merchant based in Berwick’s Red Hall, is interrupted.
Shouts, groans, the clang of swords and the shrieks of women mingled together. This was close and deadly warfare.
Heaps of dead men lay at every door, each with his sword glued to his hands by the blood of an enemy. Of the warriors from Fife, every man perished. But they exacted a costly sacrifice of the boldest lives in England.
The streets ran deep with blood. In addition to the slaughtered invaders they were paved with the lifeless bodies of 17,000 inhabitants. The carnage ended only when there were no more lives to prey on. The town was an awful, silent charnel house.
But the Red Hall still stood. Within it were 30 brave Flemings – pouring arrows onto the triumphant besiegers, and resolved to defend it to the death. Among them was Isabella’s father and his intended son-in-law, whose hands, which had so recently held a bride’s, now dripped with blood.
The entire strength of the English army pressed around the Hall, and these devoted merchants took a fearful toll. But what the besiegers could not achieve by force, they effected by fire. The Red Hall was enveloped in flames – its wool and silks blazing.
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Still the brave men stood in the midst of the conflagration, hurling death down on their enemies. As the fire raged, they rushed to the roof of their Hall, firing their last arrows and waving their swords around their heads with a shout of triumph.
There stood the father, his daughter and her lover, smiling and embracing one another in death.
Crash succeeded crash. The flames ascended higher and higher. The proud building was falling to pieces. As the flames surrounded the brave victims, gentle Isabella could be seen leaning on her bridegroom, waving her slender hand in triumph.
The hardy band waved their swords and shouted “Liberty!” A moment later, the building fell to the earth. The heroes, the bridegroom and his bride were buried in the ruins of their fortress and their factory.
Thus fell the Red Hall, and with it the commercial glory of Berwick. Governor Sir William Douglas surrendered the castle and the town was given up to plunder. Its trade in wool and foreign merchandise was transferred to London, and we never won it back.
Adapted by Joe Lang, illustrated by Morag Eaton. Buy the Wilson’s Tales Revival Editions, £8.50, at Berwick booksellers or www.wilsonstales.co.uk and illustrations at Foldyard, Bridge Street (www.foldyard.co.uk).