Amid scenes of verdant solitude, the Border peel of Fulton stands on rising ground near to and overlooking the highway through the valley of the lower Rule. The hillock which forms its vantage ground lies a mile and a half due south of the now small village of Bedrule, and exactly four miles " as the ‘plane flies" south-south-west of Jedburgh. From and to the county town it formed a pleasant afternoon walk (as I remember well from the days of youth)—chiefly by a right-of-way across the Dunion Moor and Blacklaw. Rising on the Watch Knowe (957 ft.), a stream descends to swell the Rule; and near Fulton it forms a small glen clad with trees, including the hazel. Reminiscing over "An Autumn's Ramble to Ruberslaw," Walter Laidlaw recalls how, passing " o'er the Dunion Hill to Rule with lightsome heart," occasionally “To Fulton Glen, when nuts were full, We played the truant frae the school."
But however pleasant the memories of these associations, it must be admitted that this place owes its name to a slight cast on it by the early inhabitants of the vale, who aspersively called it " he foul toun," or habitation in a noxious or messy locality, as the early hamlet may well have been before the land was broken in, drained, and farmed by the early feudal tenants here. Even yet in soft weather the vicinity of the tower is quaggy.
The environment of Fulton peel-tower is one of wild beauty. Away to the west soars to a height of 1392 feet the rugged mass of Ruberslaw, with the woods of Wells estate clothing its sides and the river Rule laving its base. A little to the north lie the farm-servants' cottages, while about midway between the tower and Bedrule stood in former times a hamlet called Crosscleugh, which (settled by the Turnbulls before 1490) was devastated during the Earl of Hertford's vindictive invasion in 1545. Other places in Rulewater that were then desolated were: Spittal-on Rule, Bedrule itself, Rulewood, " the Wolles," Donnerlees, " Fotton," Westlees, Tronnyhill, and " Dupligis," besides two waulk mills. " Westlies " (as it appears on Gordon of Stralach's map of Teviotdale) stood between Billerwell and Wells ("the Wolles" of the above lies), and thus on the left bank of the Rule, and over against Fulton. Gordon's map (printed in 1654) apparently shows by a symbol a tower as formerly standing at Billerwell; but it seems highly probable that the configuration has been misplaced and should have been located at Fulton, on the opposite side of this romantic stream. Pont's map of Teviotdale (about 1620) assuredly shows the existence of a tower at " Foultoun."
The earliest feudal lairds of Fulton of whom there is any record were a sept of the Turnbulls, that prolific and once powerful Border family whose originator in the early fourteenth century settled (apparently as a vassal of the Douglas) in or near Bedrule. Thence his descendants spread, and occupied much of the Rule valley. Springing from this ancestral line, one of the earliest feudal possessors of these lands was John Turnbull of "Foultoun," who with several other Turnbulls, and various more Scots, was present on 5th March, 1426, in the chapel of the hospital which formerly stood at Spittal-on-Rule, on the occasion of the investigation or inquiry concerning the leprosy of John Turnbull of Minto; and with these Borderers and other Scots the laird of Fulton witnessed a notarial instrument concerning their decision in that matter.
Early in 1426 an "inquisition" was made at "Etibredeschelis" (near the junction of Yarrow and Ettrick) regarding the lands of Elerig in upper Borthwick—a possession of the Scotts (later of Buccleuch); and on 27th February of that year John Turnbull of "Foultoune" and others witnessed a retour certifying Walter Scott as heir to his father in these lands. This laird of Fulton, who may have been the founder of this branch of the turbulent clan, was a man of considerable ability, and held the office of bailie of the regality of Sprouston. In that capacity he gave infeftment in 1432 of the lands of Primside to George of Rule and Margaret Ker, his wife. As bailif of the regality of Sprouston, "John Turnbulle of le Fultoun" continued to act for the Douglas in many important transactions, until at least 1438: See the Roxburghe Manuscripts (Hist. MSS. Comm.), pp. 9, 20.
By the end of the fifteenth century the Turnbulls had from slender beginnings become a prolific and powerful clan. But Leyden exaggerates their immunity in his reference to the river Rule:
"Where Turnbulls once, a race no power could awe, Lined the rough skirts of stormy Ruberslaw."
For in 1510 James IV, annoyed by their audacity and disregard of the law, invaded the vale by a night march from Jedburgh and compelled two hundred of the unruly tribe to meet him at the water of Rule, bearing in their hands the swords with which they had committed their offenses, "and having each around his neck the halter that he had well merited." A few received capital punishment: many were imprisoned or put in ward; and conceivably the laird of Fulton was amongst those who thus suffered the penalty of the law. Hostages were taken to ensure the good behaviour of the remainder, who were then dismissed to their homes. For the tradition (or perhaps rather legend) that associates these repressing executions with the Dead Haugh—or Deadman's Haugh—near Spittal-on-Rule, one may consult Tancred's "Rulewater;" pp. 226, 237. (The Treasurer's Accounts and the Exchequer Rolls show that the energetic monarch was then (Nov. 1510) holding a justiciary court in Jedburgh.)
Having been thus reduced to submission or order, the Turnbulls, assembling under the banner of Lord Home, possibly shared in the disaster of Flodden, as they certainly experienced that results of that defeat. For on May 15, 1515, the Southrons made a hostile invasion of the Rule valley, where with devastating hands they “did greit skaith under trust " (wrote Bishop Leslie), in defiance of a tripartite truce between Scotland, England and France. Thus the clan suffered from compatriot and foe alike; and their sad plight may well have been viewed with royal compassion; for in November, 1516, James V granted (under the privy seal) letters of remission to various Turnbulls, including Adam, George, and Andrew Turnbull in Fulton, as well as William Turnbull in Crag, for their alleged art, part, and assistance given to Alexander, Lord Home, and his brother in their treason. The Turnbulls had been but serving their feudal superior Lord Home, who expiated his alleged offense on the block in October, 1516. But the influence of his heirs long availed in Rulewater.
For rather more than quarter of a century after the above remission, local history maintains silence regarding Fulton. But in September, 1545, the vindictive Border raid by Hertford's forces did not spare this dale, in the lower stretch of which twelve inhabited places were devastated— including "Fotton" (an obvious error for "Folton," i.e. Fulton). And again when Sussex marched unopposed through Teviotdale in April, 1570, to punish the partisans of the abdicated Queen Mary and other adherents to the Catholic party, the fortalices, towns, and lands of the lairds of Fernieherst, Huntill, and Bedrule especially suffered; and undoubtedly Fulton Tower then felt the heavy hand of the southern invader. Because of the Turnbulls' espousal of the cause of the exiled queen, James VI on 20th January, 1571, granted to Margaret Hume, daughter of John Hume of Cowdenknowes, the lands of " Fultoun " and " Crocecleuch " in the barony of Bedrule.
Soon the laird of Bedrule regained favour, and his valour at the Raid of Reidswire in July, 1575, enhanced his popularity and renown. Clad in his serviceable coat of mail, and followed by "all his Turnbulls" (including doubtless the laird and retainers of Fulton), "auld Bedrule"—as Andrew Turnbull was popularly called—helped manfully to trounce the hereditary foe on that stirring occasion. After the Union of the Crowns, Borderers often found it difficult to accommodate themselves to the new political conditions. One such was "Andro Patersonne in Foultoune, "who in 1623 was accused of stealing an ox and a cow from a woman in Newton, Glendale. When he was tried on this charge at Jedburgh, a patriotic jury exculpated him.
In his account of the parish of Bedrule (written in 1837), Rev. Alexander Craig gives some account of a current tradition that the last occupant of this tower was a strong Turnbull who was at deadly feud with the Kers of Fernieherst. Obtaining stealthy access to the tower, some of the latter pounced upon him as he, oblivious of his danger, was holding his infant child on his knee, and amusing it by singing the old Scotch ballad: "Little wat ye wha's coming." Echoing this, the Kers rushed on him; but not before Turnbull, leaping up, had seized his sword, and prepared to resist. This he was prevented from doing by the entreaties and still more the clinging of his wife—with a result that has apparently not been transmitted to posterity. An embellished account of this legend or tale may be found in these "Transactions" for 1882 (p. 39), which, if untrustworthy, has at least the merit of graphic or vivid writing.
It is possible that in this legend we have an echo of or a sequel to the feud between the Kers and the Turnbulls, which occasioned a battle in the streets of Jedburgh in 1601. Whatever the value or merits of this story, the Turnbulls of Fulton disappeared so early and so completely that the genealogist of " Rulewater and its People " could give no account of any one of them. A recent inquiry in the "Weekly Scotsman" for descendants evoked no satisfactory reply.
The sober truth seems to be that about the time of the Union of the Crowns the Turnbulls of Rulewater were getting into difficulties with their creditors as well as with the law. Failing to farm his lands adequately and hence expending more than his income, Turnbull of Bedrule mortgaged his Rulewater properties to Ker of Cavers-Carre. On the other hand, the laird and various of the clan so broke the law (probably by theft of wood from their neighbour Stewart's land) that they were summoned to appear before the Privy Council. To this court John Stewart of Traquair complained in July, 1619, that Walter Turnbull of Bedrule, Walter Turnbull in Fulton and his son Thomas, as also Robert and Mungo Turnbull, besides John and William Turnbull in " Corscleuch," and various other Turnbulls and two Ainslies, came in a very disorderly manner to his (Stewart's) lands at Huntliehill and contrary to law cut down a great quantity of greenwood and young trees, of which they took away twenty-four horse loads. The defenders failed to appear in court, and accordingly were denounced rebels. Although Turnbull of Bedrule continued to be a figure of (decreasing) note for a time (see Tancred, " Rulewater," p. 241), the Fulton sept apparently disappeared henceforth from record.
Hence the lands and barony of Bedrule, the lands of Fulton with its dwelling-house (Latin " cum maneria," evidently referring to the tower or peel), as also the lands of "Corscleuch, Mensles, Speirmanislandis, and Rowcastle," were granted by James VI in 1623 to Thomas Ker of Cavers-Carre by a charter issued under the Great Seal. Another such charter given in 1649 by his grandson confirmed these (and other) lands to Andrew, eldest son of Sir Thomas Ker. In 1678 the lands and barony of Bedrule, and the lands of "Foultoune," besides other properties, were recorded as being the possessions of Sir Thomas Ker of Cavers-Carre. On July 5, 1684, his son John Ker was retoured his heir in these and other lands (including "Reucastel").
About seventy years ago, the walls of this disabled stronghold, now the only remaining tower in the lower valley of the Rule, were repaired with a view to preserving the substantial remains of the historic ruin. An etching of the romantic peel has been fittingly reproduced in Tancred's "Rulewater and its People" (p. 235), but it hides the fact that the farthest wall is almost completely gone. A fine illustration from a photo forms the plate facing p. 256 of Gauld's "Brave Borderland."
Near the ruins is a spring, whose percolations eventually flow into the Fulton (or Huntly) Burn. It rises west of the tower, and being thus situated on the other side of the highway (and hence also south of the brook), waters a piece of land called the " Deidlie Field." Though owing to its proximity to this fortalice one may be excused for picturing this field as a scene of sanguinary frays (whether in hostile or in trial combats or joustings), it may have acquired its name from the conceivably pestilential nature of the ground, just as the hamlet close by secured the name of " the foul toun."
These lands were owned by the Cavers-Carre family until 1801, when Willlam Elliot of Wells bought them for the sum of £19,240. In the advertisement of the sale the various properties (with their gross rentals) were thus detailed: Part of Bedrule held by William Pringle (gross rent £422 8s); Fulton, held by William Pringle (£252 8s); ground at Bedrule (£60); Dunionhill and Dunion-shank, Dr. Lindsay [of Jedburgh] (£20); Bedrule Mill (£30); Gourlaybog (£14); small possession at Bedrule held by W. Murray (£10); Poinderhaugh (£3).* It is thus seen that Bedrule and Fulton were even then worked as one farm, as they continued to be. When the estates of Bedrule were thus sold in 1801, the right of patronage of the parish church by a curious inadvertence was overlooked, and therefore remained vested in the Cavers-Carre family or its representative. Thus in 1866 the patron was James Ross Hume (minor) of Ninewells.
On his death in 1818 Elliot of Wells bequeathed his landed property in this county to Sir William Elliot of Stobs, as heir of line. In 1896 Elliot of Stobs sold the Wells estate, with Bedrule and Fulton, to Sir John Usher of Norton, Midlothian.
The successive tenants of conjoint Bedrule and Fulton have been: W. Pringle (until 1826), Haliburton until 1827, succeeded by Robert Brodie of Nottylees); George Simpson of Oxnam Row (from 1846) and his trustees (1889-1898); and Thomas Aird Smith (from 1898 until 1921). About 1921 Mr. A. B. Usher—a son of the proprietor—took over the management, which is still conducted by Mr H. Usher of Courthill, near Hawick.*
* Information supplied chiefly by Mr. E. Barton, a valued member of this Society. cf. also Tancred's " Rulewater," pp. 205-225.
We have already seen that three and a quarter centuries ago there lived in Fulton various families besides the Turnbulls—such as the Ainslies and Patersons. In 1619 there is also mention of "Thomas Martene in Fultoun." Gordon's map of Teviotdale indicates in this now sequestered spot a fairly important hamlet—if not indeed a village- in the middle of the seventeenth century. Stobie's map (1770) shows three clusters of houses, with the brook—properly called Huntly Burn—flowing between. Fulton, a hamlet on the south side of the burn, is one of these; while on the north bank lay Huntlyhill in two parts, with the valley road running between them. Fullarton's "Gazetteer of Scotland " refers to this now shrunken hamlet as a "village of some little consequence in the times of the Border feuds, but now recognizable only by the vestiges of its castle or peel-house".
While its precursor was erected probably of timber, the successor peel about four centuries ago was built of stone. In 1535 the Scottish estates enacted that all substantial landholders should within the next two years erect a fort or tower of " stone and lyme "—on a scale in accordance with their means; and thus it is probable that the existing tower was built by or soon after 1537. Undoubtedly it suffered in 1545, probably in 1570, and conceivably at other times; but repaired or renovated, the stout edifice continued to serve the feudatory as his dwelling-house, until times became too difficult for him to maintain its upkeep or retain its possession. Thereafter it lapsed in ruin.
Briefly describing the solitary ruins of this simple Border keep just over a century ago, Rev. Alexander Craig of Bedrule stated that "there arc three side walls pretty entire and of great thickness and solidarity.” These walls, however, are of variable thickness, varying from 3 feet 9 inches to 4 feet 2 inches, and rise to a height of about 23 feet. The tower is almost square, with a length of 31 feet and a breadth of 27 feet (or 23 feet, according to another report).
There are some traces of a projection at the south-west angle, in which was contained a circular stairway that led to the loftier apartments. In the interior walls one may still observe the holes for holding the joists which supported the upper floor. Thus the first "ceiling" was not a pend, as was the case in many Border peels. The walls still show the shot-holes from which arrows or arquebuses might be discharged from within against an assaulting enemy. These shot-holes - two in the walls of the ground floor, one in the second storey—have a horizontal external splay.
* When I visited the ruin in 1946 along with Mr. Barton, I unfortunately had no line or rule and therefore could take no precise measurements. Printed sources have had to be relied on.