Clan Carruthers, Mouswald

Clan Carruthers: Pele Towers & Mouswald Tower

Border Towers

Arnside Tower, a late-medieval Pele tower in Cumbria, England

According to Alastair Maxwell-Irving FSA, FSA Scot in his paper on Tower Houses, these defensive strong- holds came in all shapes and sizes over a period of nearly 300 years. They ranged from the great tower-house castles of the late 14th and 15th centuries to the lesser towers of the 16th century and later, more and more of these strongholds were being built, and rebuilt, while others were disappearing from the scene, for one reason or another – English invasions, clan feuds, the official razing of the homes of those declared outlaws, or those just abandoned. And then there were the strong- holds of lesser families, pele-houses, bastle- houses and simple peles. the latter being small fortified keeps or tower houses, built along the English and Scottish Borders, intended as watch towers where signal fires could be lit by the garrison to warn of approaching danger. By an Act of Parliament in 1455 each of these towers was required to have an iron basket on its summit and a smoke or fire signal, for day or night use, ready at hand.

It is suggested that within the three Marches of the Borders: The Merse, Lauderdale, Tweeddale, Teviotdale, Liddesdale, Eskdale & Ewesdale, Annandale, Nithsdale, Eastern Galloway and Mid Galloway, there could have been a large number of individual ‘habitations’ (towers, bastles, pe- les, fermtouns, homesteads, settlements, etc.). The cartographers of the day Pont and Blaeu recorded as many as; 4592 in the East March, 7693 in the Middle March and 12604 in the West March. This gives an overall total of about 2488 ‘habitations’, excluding towns and large villages. But this can only be taken as a rough guide. One has also to bear in mind that Pont never mapped Upper Annandale, from Lockerbie northwards.

Therefore, just as the Romans had established signal stations throughout their empire to give rapid warning of trouble over long distances, so the Borderers had as early as the 13th century established beacons on the hilltops to warn of English invasions; and in 1448 it was decreed that these be further augmented by additional beacons on designated hilltops up the principal valleys.

Smailholm Tower from the east across the lochan from near Sandyknowe Farm, near Kelso, Scotland

At a more local level, and this would have included Mouswald, families and groups of families had likewise sited their strongholds in such positions that they too had chains of communication, especially up the valleys. This became much more evident in the second half of the 16th century, when the new towers were built. The lines of sight can still be followed. Thus one can follow the link along the major valleys of Tweeddale, Teviotdale, Liddesdale, Eskdale, Annandale and Nithsdale, as well as along such lesser valleys as Manor, Ewesdale, Kirtleside, Glenesslin and the Cluden, and these can clearly be followed on the Blaeu maps. It is only in the Merse in the east and Galloway in the far west that the links are less obvious. However, some of the more remote sites, such as Dumbretton, Tundenby, Kirtlehead, Winterhopehead and Carruthers, are associated with ‘homesteads’ and ‘settlements’ as recorded on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps, and a few, such as Kirtlebridge and Gretna, are known villages.

One question that is not easily answered is: What qualifies as a ‘tower-house’? In most cases in the Borders, the answer is fairly obvious, whether one is dealing with the great tower- house castles such as Threave, Newark, Neidpath or Cardoness, or the lesser towers of the 16th century, such as Hillslap, Kirkhope, Bonshaw or Fourmerkland. Large or small, they were all towers or fortalices built as ’strongholds’ for their owners.

Bastle-houses and pele-houses – as the terms are now used – had much in common, the principal difference being that the former had vaulted basements and sometimes internal stairs, but neither was ever more than two stories high, with perhaps an attic. They certainly could not be described as ‘towers’, yet they were treated the same by Pont, and they served the same purpose as ‘strongholds’. Like many towers, they also reserved the basement for livestock and storage, whilst living on the floor above. One clear distinction, however, was their size and shape. The ratio of length of side wall to width of gable for bastle-houses and pele-houses was much greater than for an average tower. Bastle-houses are much commoner on the English side of the Border, where many have survived the rigours of time, either in groups in villages or on their own amongst the hills; but they didn’t survive as well in , as so many on the Scottish side were reportedly destroyed or burnt during English incursions.


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Carruthers Lands showing Mouswald and Holmains

There is very little left of Mouswald Tower but its history lives on in our heritage and culture and in the scheme of things was not a grand structure. The House of Carruthers of Mouswald are the first of our family’s chiefly line, who died out in 1548, with the Chiefship being passed to the House of Holmains as the senior line. (Mouswald is accepted as being a derivation of Moss Wald; Wood on the Moss, the traditions of the area describe a huge oak forest in the region).

The family seat of Mouswald Tower, was founded by the Carruthers family. It is the largest and the only remaining border tower in the Mouswald parish, the sites of four others there have been lost. Sadly, it is now a ruin and only the eastern half of this tower, with its plain walls and unvaulted basement, stands to any height.

Drawing of Mouswald Tower circa 1939.  © CCSI

The ruins of Mouswald Tower most likely date back to the 15th century and now stand within a holiday park. It is found just off the A75 on the B724 north west of Mouswald village. The ancient parish of Mouswald in Nithsdale, is therefore situated 2km northwest of Carrutherstown and 10 km southeast of Dumfries in south-west Scotland, lying on the B724 south of the A75. The site views southward over the Solway Firth. The parish itself has various spellings in the literature: Mouswald, Mousewald, Mosswald or Muswald, the latter being the earliest recorded derivation.

When the first tower was built at Mouswald is not known, but the lands of Mouswald, first recorded as Musfald, are first mentioned in the first half of the 13th century during the reign of Alexander II when they seem to have been held by vassals of Robert de Brus, probably the grandfather of Robert the Bruce. There is no doubt that the men of Mouswald were vassals of the Brus/Bruce Family and were great supporters of King Robert the Bruce himself being rewarded accordingly. In 1320 Robert the Bruce granted Thomas, son of John of Carruthers the whole lands of Mussald (Mouswald) and Apiltretwayt (Appletreewhat or Applegarth) and in 1351 Thomas’ brother is styled William Carruthers of Mosswald in a charter of the lands of Middlebie from David II.

King David seems to have deemed the tower adequate as he visited Mouswald in 1361 and went on too grant a charter there to John of Carruthers of one half of the lands within the tenement of Mouswald which formerly belonged to John of Rafhols which was witnessed by Roberts Carruthers, laird of Mouswald.

Ruins of Mouswald Tower (Front)  © CCSI

The Mouswald branch of the Carruthers family were persons of some note in the area, and between 1446 and 1454 John Carruthers of Mouswald was the keeper of Lochmaben Castle. In 1452 James II granted to him “the lands of Mousfald, Loganetenement, Medilby, Dronnock Ellirbek, Hatilland Hill, Cummertries, Hoddom, Tunnergath, Hallthis, Cumlungand, Hultvhate, Stanrase and Wamfray “.

Mouswald seems to have become the main focus of the Carruthers’ estates, superseding their original lands of Carruthers which by 1464 were in the hands of Sir John Carlile, later Lord Carlile of Torthorwald. In 1484 James III granted the lands of Raffles to Archibald Carruthers of Mouswald, the tower there offering enhanced protection of the south-eastern approach to their estates.

It seems likely that a tower would have existed at Mouswald by the 1400’s. The tower stands on slight rising ground to the north of the Cleuchbrae Burn and was oblong in plan, measuring around 7.3m long by around 5.4m wide with walls some 1.8m thick. There is no evidence that the basement level was vaulted but it known that it was protected by gun-loops and carried two further storeys.

In 1544 Mary Queen of Scots erected various other lands, including parts of the old barony of Carruthers, into the free barony of Mouswald for Simon Carruthers and the tower and fortalice of Mouswald are specifically mentioned in the grant. Simon died in 1548, thought to have been killed in a Border raid by Lord Herries, leaving no male heir. His daughters, Janet and Marion, were made wards of Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig and within a few years Simon’s estates had passed through the hands of no less than seven male heirs.


Douglas of Drumlanrig

Douglas subsequently brought a lawsuit which resulted in Simon’s daughters being recognised as co-heiresses of their father’s estates at the expense of a further male heir. There seems to have been an attempt to protect the Carruthers’ estates from Douglas’ influence as in 1550 Robert Maxwell, 6th Lord Maxwell, was in possession of “the House of Mowswald” and seemingly allied with the Murrays of Cockpool, maternal relatives of the Carruthers heiresses.

In 1560 Janet Carruthers married Thomas Rorison of Bardannoch, whose father had sworn fealty to Douglas in 1544, and granted to Douglas her half of her father’s estates. Douglas seems to have closely controlled Marion’s life in order to ensure that she couldn’t marry someone who would then take ownership of her half. In an attempt to escape Douglas’ influence she conveyed her half of the lands of Mouswald to her uncle, Charles Murray of Cockpool, in 1564, the deed written at Comlongon.


In 1570 Marion Carruthers ‘fell’ to her death from the battlements of Comlongon Castle, traditionally by suicide, although foul play is suspected by some since her half of the Mouswald estates subsequently passed to Douglas.

In 1608 Douglas granted his second son, James, the lands of Mouswald, founding the Douglas of Mouswald family, and in 1617 he was accused of the murder of John Carruthers of Dormont. Mouswald remained with this branch of the family for around a century before it passed to the Duke of Queensberry who was descended from Douglas’ first son, William.

Around 1815 Charles Douglas, 6th Marquess of Queensberry, gave permission for the tower to be dismantled. The coping and corner stones were removed and the old entrance gateway was taken by Douglas’ neighbour at Rockhall, Grierson of Lag, to install at his stables.

Norwegian Soldiers in front of the ruins of  Mouswald Tower, circa 1940  © CCSI

A new house, Mouswald Place, was built just to the west of the tower supposedly in the same year and a carved stone, now indecipherable but said to have been taken from over the arch of the castle’s drawbridge gate, was installed on one of its walls. However, a Charles Carruthers, who was a tenant of Mouswald Place around 1830 when it was sold by the Marquess of Queensberry, was apparently born at Mouswald Place in 1794 suggesting the construction of a new building before 1815.

In 1834 Carruthers’ son was born at Mouswald Place but by the mid-19th century Mouswald Place was owned by Robert Threshie, described as a banker and writer. Threshie died in 1860 and the next owners seem to have been the Reid family who were certainly living there by 1907. Early in the 20th century little of the north wall remained standing but the south, east and west walls still stood to a height of around 9.1m with the help of some recent external buttressing.

In 1920 Robert Corsane Reid, the second son of John James Reid of Mouswald Place, inherited the family estate of Mouswald Place but sold them in 1925. A Miss Johnstone was living at Mouswald Place in 1926. During the Second World War the mansion at Mouswald Place was used for training Norwegian officer and non-commissioned officers.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey

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