Basic Biographical Details

Name: William Adam
Born: 30 October 1689
Died: 24 June 1748
Bio Notes: William Adam was born on 30 October 1689, the son of John Adam, builder, Kirkcaldy, whose progenitors were hereditary proprietors of a small Angus estate, and his wife Helen Cranstoun. William Adam probably attended the grammar school in Kirkcaldy, leaving in 1704 when he was fifteen. He trained as a mason, possibly with his father. He was a member of the Incorporation of Hammermen of Linktown, Kirkcaldy from at least 1717 to 1734 (and probably before but the records of this Incorporation are fragmentary). In 1728 Adam was admitted as a burgess and guild brother of Edinburgh gratis. Probably later that year he moved his family to Edinburgh. He had given up even nominal membership of the Linktown incorporation. He had emerged by that date as ‘the universal architect’.

Unlike William Bruce and James Smith, who had Jacobite sympathies, Adam was a Presbyterian Whig and therefore acceptable to both government and to men of influence. He was on excellent terms with members of the Scottish aristocracy and leading figures of the Enlightenment.

At some point before 1720 Adam visited the Low Countries and Northern France. Clerk of Eldin (Adam’s son-in-law) later stated that Adam had brought a model of a barley mill back from his trip and introduced barley-making (probably at the mill at Saltoun of 1711). But his involvement in this must have been small. Clerk also claimed that he introduced the making of pantiles to Scotland. In 1714 Adam obtained a license in partnership with William Robertson of Gladney, formerly factor on the Wemyss estate for a tile and brick works at Linktown. Records show that he later supplied bricks and tiles at Donibristle and elsewhere.

In 1716 Adam married his partner’s daughter, Mary Robertson. They lived at Gladney House with Mary’s father. Of their children four sons (John, Robert and James who followed in their father’s footsteps and William who had a chequered career in the City) and six daughters (Susannah married John Clerk of Eldin) survived until adulthood.

In the 1720s Adam’s practice burgeoned. His emergence as a major player in Scottish architecture may owe something to the collapse of the architectural and contracting partnership of James Smith and Alexander McGilll.

Adam was supported by the success of the brick and tile works. He was equipped with a knowledge of construction because of his training as a mason and his knowledge was probably furthered by his trip to the Low Countries. His descendants’ library at Blair Adam contained a number of books published before 1720 (Vitruvius, Palladio, Serlio, Scamozzi, etc) and may have belonged to him. By 1726 he owned an edition, at least a fragmentary one, of Palladio’s ‘Quattri Libri’ and the first two volumes of Colen Campbell’s ‘Vitruvius Britannicus’.

During the 1720s, Adam’s patrons and friends tried to obtain for him government posts and contracts and almost succeeded but for the death of the king. In 1727 although he not officially appointed he was able to draw the salary of Surveyor of the King’s Works. The following year he was appointed Clerk and Storekeeper of the King’s Works in Scotland. In 1730 he was appointed Mason to the Board of Ordnance in North Britain, a post which brought him large military contracts after the ‘45. At the behest of the 2nd Earl of Stair and probably in connection with seeking appointments he travelled to London 1727. Sir John Clerk of Penicuik joined him in Stamford. Through Sir John and his circle of antiquarian friends, Adam met Lord Burlington and a number of Scottish noblemen. He may also have met James Gibbs (later a subscriber to his book). Adam’s trip to London was also to find an engraver to prepare plates of his drawings for his planned publication, ‘Vitruvius Scoticus’. It was modelled on Colen Campbell’s ‘Vitruvius Britannicus’ and was to contain plates of work by Adam and his immediate predecessors in Scotland. After he returned to Scotland in late 1727 Adam began to collect subscriptions for the book. Subscribers were difficult to find and this combined possibly with the slowness of the engraver and Adam’s own diffidence, the book was not printed until about the time of Adam’s death and not published for another sixty years.

It is not clear how so many prestigious commissions came his way in the 1720s. It may have been through his patronage of Sir John Clerk or of Adam’s ‘great friend’ the second earl of Stair. He was employed by John Ker, first duke of Roxburgh at Floors. Although paid as a mason there, he later claimed to have designed the building. In the room ratios, pedimented towers and union of pavilions with the centre, he seems to have been referring to Palladio. He worked at Hopetoun House in the 1720s which involved ‘taking down the old house’; and he and his sons were to continue working there until the 1750s. A few years later he made additions at Newliston, where the second Earl of Stair was ‘making a canal and several very grand improvements’, very probably designed by Adam as well as working at Dalmahoy, Redbraes, Craigdarroch, The Drum and Arniston to name but a few.

Although Stair was unable to afford a new house, Adam had better luck with Sir John Clerk at Mavisbank, which was a villa and occasional residence of Sir John. It has been observed that Mavisbank with its awkward proportions, banded pilasters and excess of carving is unlike contemporary English villas. Adam’s approach was pragmatic. He drew detail from a range of sources with considerable freedom and inventiveness. He applied whatever style or detailing he chose to each separate commission, drawing both on his Scottish past but also on recent classical architecture from England and the Continent. Despite his friendship with Sir John Clerk, he had little taste for the English neo-Palladian architecture. The work of Gibbs and Vanbrugh were influential but he also used Continental Baroque as a source.

Adam’s work in the 1720s was not confined to architecture. Adam often acted as landscape gardener, for example at Newliston, Hopetoun, Arniston and Craigston. Alongside this he had business interests some of which had been inherited from his father. Along with the Linktown brickworks and the barley mills, he had, according to Sir John Clerk in 1728 nearly twenty projects in hand: ‘Timber Mills, Coal Works, Salt Pans, Marble Works, Highways, Farms, houses of his own a-building and houses belonging to others not a few’. His enterprises included the ownership of a quarry at South Queensferry, the stone from which could be easily shipped anywhere by sea. Although some of his friends and patrons considered that he might have over-stretched himself, he accumulated considerable wealth. He invested this in house property in Edinburgh and in acquiring the estate of Blair Crambeth in Kinross-shire which he purchased in 1731 for £8010 Scots and renamed it Blair Adam.

That Adam’s status was very high by about 1730 is shown by the fact that Lord Polwarth in considering remodelling Redbraes Castle consulted Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, two of the most fashionable architects in London and from French architects but was also advised to consult William Adam as well. The list below shows the extent of his practice.

Adam’s life in the 1740s was dogged by the dispute with William Duff, Lord Braco. Lord Braco had employed Adam at Banff in 1730. By 1735 he had decided to build a new house which was begun in June of that year. Adam initiated the proceedings because Lord Braco had not paid his account. He claimed he was due the sum of £5,786 12s 11d, the principal point at issue was whether Adam had been the contractor for the mason work as well as the architect. Adam was clearly in the right but it is not clear if Lord Braco misunderstood or if because of some falling out, he intended to ruin the architect. The dispute dragged on until almost the end of Adam’s life.

Adam’s later works consisted of strengthening of fortifications in the wake of the ’45, and a series of public buildings. His last country house, Inveraray, designed by Roger Morris but executed by Adam was when completed the first major manifestation of the Gothic Revival.

Adam, nicknamed ‘Old Stone and Lime’ by his children died in Edinburgh on 24 June 1748 and was buried in the family mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard. His business enterprises were continued by John Adam while his architectural practice was extended by Robert and James in Edinburgh and London.

There is an oil painting of Adam at Blair Adam and a bust in the SNPG.

Buildings and Designs

This was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 93 Belhaven HouseBelhaven East LothianScotlandScheme drawn up - not executed. Date not known.
Item 2 of 93 Cally Estate, Cally Palace and other estate buildingsGatehouse of Fleet KirkcudbrightshireScotlandScheme illustrated in Vitruvius Scoticus - not executed.
Item 3 of 93 Castle KennedyStranraer WigtownshireScotlandGarden temple designed - perhaps not executed
Item 4 of 93 Fasque Castle  KincardineshireScotlandPlans drawn up.
Item 5 of 93 Kenmure CastleNew Galloway KirkcudbrightshireScotlandPlans drawn up
Item 6 of 93 Makerston (or Makerstoun) HouseKelso RoxburghshireScotlandAlterations to house - details uncertain
Item 7 of 93 Preston Hall  MidlothianScotlandPlans drawn up - not executed
Item 8 of 93 Saughton House  MidlothianScotlandPlans drawn up - not executed.
Item 9 of 93 Torrance House  LanarkshireScotlandPlans drawn up - perhaps not executed - with exception of wings. (Colvin unclear)
Item 10 of 931720sCastle KennedyStranraer WigtownshireScotlandPerhaps designed garden layout.
Item 11 of 931720sNewhall HouseGifford East LothianScotland 
Item 12 of 93c. 1720Airth HouseAirth StirlingshireScotlandDesigns drawn up - not executed
Item 13 of 93c. 1720Lonmay  AberdeenshireScotlandOnly pavilions seems to have been built. One of these since demolished.
Item 14 of 931721Floors CastleKelso RoxburghshireScotland 
Item 15 of 931721Hopetoun HouseAbercorn West LothianScotlandRemodelling and enlargement. Continued until 1748 when his son took over.
Item 16 of 931723Mavisbank House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 17 of 931724Lawers House  PerthshireScotland 
Item 18 of 931725Dalmahoy House and lodgesRatho EdinburghScotland'Buildings of Scotland' states it was finished in 1725
Item 19 of 931725Mellerstain House  BerwickshireScotlandWings added
Item 20 of 93c. 1725NewlistonKirkliston West LothianScotlandStables, offices and garden layout
Item 21 of 931726Arniston House  MidlothianScotland 
Item 22 of 931726Craigdarroch House  DumfriesshireScotlandDesign by William Adam but existing house bears only general ressemblance to Adam's design and is less sophiticated and must be the work of a master builder.
Item 23 of 931726Garvald ManseGarvald East LothianScotland 
Item 24 of 931726The DrumGilmerton EdinburghScotlandRebuilding
Item 25 of 931729Aberdeen Town House  AberdeenScotlandEnlargement
Item 26 of 931729Keith HallInverurie AberdeenshireScotlandDesigns for rebuilding the tower house and remodelling the remainder in an Early Georgian manner with Palladian wings - not executed
Item 27 of 93After 1729Culter HousePeterculter AberdeenshireScotlandRemodelling of grandest room on the second floor of the 17th century block
Item 28 of 93Before 1729Eglinton Castle and Tournament Bridge  AyrshireScotlandOriginal Castle - demolished to make way for new house of late 18th/early 19th century.
Item 29 of 931730House of DunDun AngusScotland 
Item 30 of 931730Robert Gordon's CollegeSchoolhill AberdeenScotlandOriginal building
Item 31 of 931730Yester HouseGifford East LothianScotlandAlterations including new roof and addition of pilasters and attic to centre of north front.
Item 32 of 93c. 1730Balgregan HouseStoneykirk MidlothianScotlandRemodelling
Item 33 of 93c. 1730CraigiehallCramond EdinburghScotlandAlterations including new front doorway (removed 1852) and additions including north east pavilion (remodelled 1828). Also bridge in grounds.
Item 34 of 93c. 1730Red BraesBonnington MidlothianScotland 
Item 35 of 931731Blair Adam  Kinross-shireScotlandOriginal house which forms centerpiece of the present east range
Item 36 of 931731ChatelheraultHamilton High Parks LanarkshireScotland 
Item 37 of 931731Cumbernauld House  DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 38 of 931731Old Parish ChurchHamilton LanarkshireScotland 
Item 39 of 931732Bridge over Cowie WaterStonehaven KincardineshireScotlandSuperseded by the James Fraser bridge
Item 40 of 931732Dundee Town House  DundeeScotland 
Item 41 of 931732Glasgow University Library  GlasgowScotland 
Item 42 of 931732Haddo HouseHaddo/Methlick AberdeenshireScotlandHouse and layout of formal gardens
Item 43 of 931732St Nicholas Church  AberdeenScotlandDrew up report on remedial work as church had had to be abandoned.
Item 44 of 931733Craigston Castle  AberdeenshireScotlandPrepared scheme for landscaping of grounds. May also have drawn up Paladian scheme for house - not executed.
Item 45 of 931733Fyvie Castle and ancillary buildingsFyvie AberdeenshireScotlandMay have been responsible for part refitting for William, 2nd Earl of Aberdeen as temporary residence while Haddo being built.
Item 46 of 931733Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandRepairs
Item 47 of 931733The Tay BridgeAberfeldy PerthshireScotland 
Item 48 of 931734The Orphans' Hospital  EdinburghScotland 
Item 49 of 931735Brunstane HouseDuddingston EdinburghScotlandSouth range rebuilt and office court added.
Item 50 of 931735Duff House  BanffshireScotlandAlso designed temple on the Hill of Doune and a triumphal arch on an island in the River Deveron and provided a design for the garden.
Item 51 of 931735The Town HouseSanquhar DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 52 of 93c. 1735Fala House  MidlothianScotland 
Item 53 of 93c. 1735MurdostounNewmains LanarkshireScotland 
Item 54 of 93c. 1735Niddrie House  MidlothianScotlandAdditions
Item 55 of 931736Blair Adam  Kinross-shireScotlandAddition of wings
Item 56 of 931736Hamilton PalaceHamilton LanarkshireScotlandTemple on the bowling green.

Adam was employed at Hamilton Palace from 1727 to 1743, making plans for the gardens and designing the church and dog-kennel, but appears to have been responsible only for minor repairs and alterations to the Palace itself, for the enlargement of which he made an unexecuted design illustrated in 'Vitruvius Scoticus'.
Item 57 of 931736HarbourCullen BanffshireScotlandPlan of harbour commissioned by 5th Earl of Findlater
Item 58 of 931736Mausoleum for the 1st Duke of MontroseAberuthven PerthshireScotland 
Item 59 of 931736Tweeddale Lodging  EdinburghScotlandStables and coach-house
Item 60 of 931737Lawers House  PerthshireScotlandFurther work
Item 61 of 931737Pollok House, including lodges  GlasgowScotlandMay have drawn up plans
Item 62 of 931738Falkirk Old Parish ChurchFalkirk StirlingshireScotlandOctagonal steeple added
Item 63 of 931738George Watson's Hospital  EdinburghScotland 
Item 64 of 931738The Royal Infirmary  EdinburghScotland 
Item 65 of 931738Tinwald House  DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 66 of 93c. 1738Minto House and stablesMinto RoxburghshireScotland 
Item 67 of 931739Balveny House   ScotlandRepaired roof.
Item 68 of 931740sDumfries HouseCumnock (near) AyrshireScotlandDrew up initial designs.
Item 69 of 931740Carnousie House and LodgeCarnousie BanffshireScotlandAddition to old house - large wing
Item 70 of 931740Caroline Park HouseGranton EdinburghScotlandOffices
Item 71 of 931740Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandDecoration of apartment for 5th Duke of Hamilton
Item 72 of 93c. 1740Elie HouseElie FifeScotlandWork including carved pediment.
Item 73 of 93c. 1740Gartmore House  PerthshireScotlandDesigns drawn up but perhaps not executed.
Item 74 of 93c. 1740Taymouth CastleTaymouth PerthshireScotlandAddition of wings and other alterations. Rebuilding in 19th century appears to have obliterated these.
Item 75 of 93c. 1740The HirselColdstream BerwickshireScotlandNorth extension
Item 76 of 931741Dalkeith House  MidlothianScotlandStables, coachhouses, gardener's cottage and bridge over the South Esk. 'Buildings of Scotland' notes construction date of stables and coach house as 1740. Home Farm built over former Smeaton House credited to William Adam under name East Park
Item 77 of 93c. 1741Buchanan CastleDrymen Stirlingshire/DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 78 of 931742Town HouseHaddington East LothianScotlandElevations produced in 1742 but nothing remaining from this period
Item 79 of 93Before 1742Barnton Castle  MidlothianScotlandRepairs and other work
Item 80 of 931743Cullen House and estate buildingsCullen BanffshireScotlandBridge over ravine adjoining house.
Item 81 of 93Before 1743Airdrie House  FifeScotlandWorks, probably including the addition of wings.
Item 82 of 93Before 1743Broxmouth and estate buildings  East LothianScotlandBridge, cascades and repairs to house
Item 83 of 93Before 1743Eglinton Castle, house and stables  AyrshireScotlandRebuilding of south side and building of new kitchen and back court.
Item 84 of 931744Kilkerran HouseMaybole AyrshireScotlandTwo chimneypeices in parlour are probably those provided by William Adam in 1744.
Item 85 of 931744NewlistonKirkliston West LothianScotlandExtensive internal alterations - demolished 1790.
Item 86 of 931744Royal Bank of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandPlans accepted
Item 87 of 93c. 1744St Michael's ChurchDumfries DumfriesshireScotlandPlan for reconstruction submitted by Adam but rejected as being too expensive.
Item 88 of 931745Castle Dounie  Inverness-shireScotlandWork begun
Item 89 of 931745Inveraray CastleInveraray ArgyllScotlandSupervised construction to designs by Roger Morris
Item 90 of 93c. 1745House, High StreetDumfries DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 91 of 93c. 1745Skene House  AberdeenshireScotlandMay have been responsible for SE wing - or perhaps John Adam responsible
Item 92 of 931747Pollok House, including lodges  GlasgowScotlandPossibly but the evidence is not clear cut
Item 93 of 93Before 1748Dailly Parish Churchyard, Mausoleum of the Fergussons of KilkerranDailly AyrshireScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this :
Item 1 of 3Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 2 of 3Gifford, John1989William Adam Edinburgh 
Item 3 of 3New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography  Article by James Macaulay.

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this :
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 2Aberdeen Journal5 July 1748  Death note
Item 2 of 2Architectural Heritage1990I