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History

The story of Spital Tower

Spital Tower has a long-recorded history, with the lands of Spittal being mentioned in Jedburgh Abbey records in 1138. In 1545 The Earl of Hertford, with a large English army, laid waste to Teviotdale, also burning or destroying 12 Towers in Rulewater, one of which was almost certainly Spital Tower.

Only 40-50 years later the Abbotrule Map prepared by Timothy Pont in the 1580’s-1590’s, as part of the first detailed mapping of Scotland. portrays Spital Tower – marked “Tour” – as a substantial structure on the northern slope of “Rubberlaw”, which suggests a full and fairly rapid recovery from the depredations.

See our digitally enhanced section here.

We have also constructed a timeline describing the history of Spital Tower from those early days to modern times.

When purchased by Thomas Greenshields Leadbetter, the present owner’s grandfather, 110 years ago Spital Tower was a bare but prosperous small hill farm on the vast Cavers Estate. The old steading consisted of a farmhouse, shepherd’s cottage, sheep pens, cattle byres, and pig styes. Along with the farm came a few pockets of woodland under the estates’ management.

On the edge of Tower Shaw wood an ancient Scots Pine tree, now nearing the close of its 3rd century, still stands which was what had drawn the family here in the first place.

Today this pine is known as the Grandfather Tree. Leadbetter, known as Tom to his wife, and T.G.L to the rest of the family, was a Glaswegian architect based in Edinburgh. He had married Mary ‘May’ Anne Usher, daughter of Sir John Usher, a distiller from a Borders family, who had bought the Wells estate next to Spital Tower in 1896. May’s brother Sir Robert inherited the estate in 1904, and it was on visits to Wells that T.G.L would see the Spital Tower pine tree. When his wife announced she was homesick for the Borders, Thomas knew exactly where he wanted to move the family. He approached Mary Palmer Douglas, owner of the Cavers estate & Spital Tower, and purchased the farm and surrounding woodlands in April 1913. In Winter 1912 he had also bought a small park from Sir Robert which adjoined Spital Tower, called Middle Holme, which would become the site of the new Spital Tower mansion.

Construction of the new house was complete in 1914, and the Leadbetters , together with the Archibald family who as longstanding employees were given occupation of Towerburn cottage, moved in that winter, only to be trapped in by heavy snow. Here T.G.L lived out the rest of his days, before leaving the estate to his son, James, known as ‘Jimmy’ In 1931.

Jimmy continued the careful husbandry of the property, replanting and extending woodlands, but as a bachelor living with his spinster sister Mary, the ‘big house’ was just too big, and they moved out in 1958 converting the former farmhouse, which had been divided into 3 flats for staff before 1914, back into a house for themselves. The Big House became a prep. School – Blanerne School – for a number of years before closing. The building was bought by John Rae, who farmed Dykes next door and was a property developer. It is now private flats.

Upon Jimmy’s death the estate passed to his sister Mary, once a military nurse, who used to shepherd the hill on horseback and pruned all her woods by hand. Having never married she left the farm to her nephew, the current owner Alan Bailey, who along with his family, continues to look after the family property and farm.

Stained glass from Bedrule Church depicting the arms of Thomas Greenshields Leadbetter, impaled with the arms of the Usher’s of Wells, his wife’s family

Stained glass from Bedrule Church depicting the Greenshields family arms. Both are part of a memorial to Alan Edmonstoun Greenshields Leadbetter, who was killed aged 21 fighting in Ypres in the first World War

Spital Tower Timeline

1138
1138

Jedburgh Abbey founded by David I for Augustinian monks.

They were also given permission to form a hospital to take in travelers, and care for the ill at the junction of the Rule Water and the Teviot. Permission was also granted to build an accompanying chapel. The land they built on became known as Spittal, the auld Scots for hospital.

1382
1382

Sir Archibald Douglas of Cavers

Sir Archibald Douglas of Cavers grants the lands of Spittal (including Spital Tower) and Denholm to Thomas Cranstoun in recognition of Good Service in return for an annual payment of one silver penny

1395
1395

Thomas Struthers, an English Knight

fights a dual with Sir William Inglis, a Scot, at Ruelhauch, on Spittal, judged by The Black Douglas and Harry Hotspurs

1545
1545

"Burn and destroy the country about, sparing neither castle, town, pele nor village"

Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford  is ordered by Henry VIII to take 12,000 foot soldiers and 4,000 horsemen into the Scottish borders and lay waste to all villages, towns, farms, towers and castles. Having spent two weeks burning Tweeddale and Teviotdale, the army left through the Rule valley, burning 12 towers in a single afternoon, Spital Tower being one of them. The ruins were later used to construct the dykes and buildings that you see today.

1551
1551

Mention of Gavin Turnbull

of The Toure, as occupying the lands of Spittal Tower, which was named Toure on the 1582 map of Rulewater.

1566
1566

Land Confirmation

Royal charter confirming lands feud by the commendator of Jedburgh abbey, partly to repair the damage caused by English armies;


Includes; lands and town of Abbotrule, over and nether Bonchester, and lands of Spittal

30th April 1601
30th April 1601

Occupation of the Tower

Complaint by Elspeth Hamilton, widow of William Somerville of Spittell, and Douglas of Wells (new husband), that on 6 April they had left their fortalice of Spittell, to certain of their roums and steadings for labouring and sowing, James Somerville (brother of late William), attacked and occupied the tower, intending to hold it as a ‘weir house’. They were given 6 hours to give the place up when the royal officer arrived.

10th December 1601
10th December 1601

Spittel Attacked

Complaint by Elspeth Hamilton, widow of William Somerville of Spittell, and Douglas of Wells (new husband), that their place of Spittell had been attacked and occupied by William and John Jerdane (brother of the lord of Appelgarth), who still occupy the house and uplift the rents.

27th November 1606
27th November 1606

Somerville Attacked

Complaint by James Somerville of Spittal, that James Douglas of Wells and other came with weapons to his house at Spittell and there wounded him and would have killed him if he had not escaped.

Circa 1600
Circa 1600

Towershaw Oak

The sprouting of the “Towershaw Oak”

1619
1619

Thomas Turnbull

confirmed as tenant of Spittal, witnessed by Robert Turnbull, brother to the Laird of Bedrule, Clan chief of the Turnbulls.

1643
1643

Touris of Rouleowde

(Tower of Rule Wood) valued at £104

1658
1658

The Covenanter, Sir Archibald Douglas of Cavers

purchases back Spittal and Denholm from William, 3rd Lord Cranstoun & builds himself a new house at Denholm called Westgate Hall

1684
1684

William Lindsay in Spittal

is ordered to surrender himself to Justice for attending Covenanter sermons on Ruberslaw

1692
1692

Thomas Veitch

is born to John Veitch, Wright in Bedrule. Thomas would go on to be Shepherd at Spital Tower for the rest of his life.

1715
1715

The lease of Spittal

is divided between three families, the Veitch’s, the Murray’s and the Bunyan’s, The Murray’s being given the lease of the Spittal Tower and the orchards of Spittal, and are called ‘gardeners’ because of that.

July 15 1749
July 15 1749

John Murray

Gardener in Touer, dies aged 80. His wife, Isobel Turnbull died in 1746

1777
1777

Andrew Murray, Tenant

in Spittal Tower, known as the ‘Hazel Dog o’ the Toor’ for his hair and temperament, dies aged 63 leaving 10 children, and is succeeded in the lease of Spittal Tower by his son, Andrew II

1797
1797

William Johnston

is tenant of Spittal-on-Rule, and his son, William jnr, is tenant of Spittal

1807
1807

Spittal-on-Rule

Spittal Mill and Spittal Tower are combined again under one lease for Mr. Hetherwick.

1811
1811

John Turnbull

John Turnbull becomes tenant of Spittal-on-Rule and Spittal Tower.

1857
1857

William G. Turnbull

Inherits the lease of both farms from his father John Turnbull

1859
1859

Barry Brothers

Three brothers, Robert, Archibald and Adam Barry, take the lease of Spittal Tower. They remain here the rest of their lives. None of them marry.

1879
1879

Violent Storm & Denholm Hill Wood

The wood on Denholm Hill was severely damaged in the storm that caused (amongst other things) the Tay Rail Bridge disaster.

1892
1892

John Routledge

tenant of Spittal Tower, dies aged 68, his wife Elizabeth Armstrong dies aged 86 in 1908

1912
1912

Building of Mansion house starts

Thomas Greenshields Leadbetter purchases Holme & Middle from his brother-in-law Sir Robert Usher, and begins construction of a new mansion house

1913
1913

Current Spital Tower landholding created

T.G.L. purchases the farm of Spital Tower from Mary Douglas Palmer-Douglas of Cavers, as well as Tower Shaw and Denholmhill Wood.

1914
1914

Bedrule Church

T.G.L. rebuilds Bedrule church for his brother-in-law Sir Robert Usher of Wells & begins constructing a new mansion house at Wells, using oak trunks from the estates woods as the foundations.


Spital Tower.


The new mansion is completed that year and the family move in to Spital Tower

4th August 1917
4th August 1917

Maj. Alan Edmonstoune Greenshields Leadbetter

T.G.L.’s third son, Maj. Alan Edmonstoune Greenshields Leadbetter is killed in action on the Yser canal, near Ypres, Belgium, aged 20. He is buried at the Canada Farm Military cemetery near Elverdhinge.

1924
1924

T.G.L.

T.G.L. sells his family estate in Lanarkshire, and moves permanently to Spital Tower

11th Feb 1931
11th Feb 1931

Thomas Greenshields Leadbetter

dies, leaving Spital Tower to his eldest son, Maj. James ‘Jimmy’ G. Greenshields-Leadbetter

Circa 1950
Circa 1950

Wood on Denholm HIll

The woodland on Denholm Hill was felled and replanted

11th Nov 1955
11th Nov 1955

May Leadbetter

T.G.L.’s wife passes away at the house her husband built for her.

1958
1958

Blanerne School

Jimmy and his sister Mary move to Spital Tower farmhouse, selling the mansion house & walled garden to become a school.

1964
1964

Jimmy Greenshields-Leadbetter

Jimmy dies and leaves Spital Tower to his sister Mary.


1968
1968

Blanerne School closes

The Mansion house is converted to flats by John Rae, Dykes Farm. At this time John Rae was renting the grazings at Spital Tower, and Mary Leadbetter was living in the farm house.


1975
1975

Mary Greenshields-Leadbetter

Mary passes away, leaving the estate to her nephew, Alan Bailey, the current owner. A series of agricultural leases continued, the longest being to George Richardson and son at Bedrule

1985
1985

Walled Garden

Alan Bailey purchases back the walled gardenwhich the estate had lost when the mansion house was sold.

2010
2010

Regeneration

Changing the walled garden ready for a campsite by improving all year round interest for wildlife and environment. Making sure plants are resilient and that the maintenance is minimal to allow focus on the experience.


Planted a 3 tier willow bed for waste management. We made sure that a number of regenerative and eco gardening methods were in place and they continue to this day.

2012
2012

Ruberslaw Wild Woods Camping

The campsite is opened in the walled garden. We employ a number of local people who enjoy the opportunity of working with others and the great outdoors.

2015
2015

Farmland

Farmland taken back in hand by Alan Bailey from John Richardson of Bedrule

2018
2018

Robert Bailey

Robert Bailey, Alan and Carla Bailey’s son, begins farming at Spital Tower

2021
2021

Location for Film, TV and Art

Spital Tower and Ruberslaw woods was first used as a location for Film, TV, Art exhibitions and installations.

2022
2022

Denholm Hill Wood

Denholm Hill Wood once again is felled and replanted, with other forestry operations.