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Robert Adam’s last visit to Scotland, 1791

  • Margaret H. B. Sanderson

It was ironic that Scotland, which Robert Adam had regarded in the 1750s as ‘a narrow place where scarce will ever happen the opportunity of putting one noble thought in execution’, should have provided most of his commissions towards the end of his life. After the financial troubles, frustrations and decline in his practice that marked the later 1770s and early 1780s he spent an increasing amount of time north of the Border on a growing number of commissions which, besides some public works, included the distinctive castles and restrained villas that appealed to a crop of Scottish clients, bankers and merchants, lawyers and soldiers. The year 1785 saw the resumption of work at the Register House. In 1786 he did battle with the South Bridge Trustees over their reluctance to adopt his plans for that scheme in full, travelling back to London in November in company with Sir Samuel Hannay, for whom he was shortly to design Kirkdale House in Galloway. In September 1788 he visited Culzean Castle, accompanied on the journey from Edinburgh by his brother-in-law, John Clerk of Eldin.

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S.R.O. Scottish Record Office.

N.L.S. National Library of Scotland.

Precise references for Adam drawings in Sir John Soane's Museum are given in A. T. Bolton's Catalogue, op. cit. Photographs of drawings for the Scottish works are in The National Monuments Record of Scotland, Edinburgh.

1 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments (S.R.O.): GD18/5838, 4961/2. Kirkdale, for which there are drawings for the house and offices, in the Soane Museum, is still lived in by the Hannay family, having undergone internal renovation after a fire.

2 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/5486/16. Culzean, for which there are numerous drawings, in the Soane Museum, at Culzean and elsewhere, built for David, 10th earl of Cassillis, is now the property of the National Trust for Scotland.

3 Blair Adam Muniments: 4/221. For a full discussion of the Adam family’s financial affairs, Robert’s relations with his brother John and an authoritative study of his late Scottish works, see Rowan, Alistair, ‘After the Adelphi: Forgotten Years in the Adam Brothers’ Practice’, in Royal Society of Arts Journal, 122 (1974), pp. 659710 , and the same author’s ‘Robert Adam’s Last Castles’, Country Life, 156 (1974), pp. 494–97.

4 Blair Adam Muniments: 4/216.

5 Bolton, A. T., The Architecture of Robert and James Adam (1922), v, p. 132.

6 Fleming, J., ‘Robert Adam’s Castle Style’, Country Life, 30 May 1968, 1446.

7 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/4968.

8 Photograph of drawing at The National Monuments Record of Scotland; original at R.I.A.S.

9 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD 18/4966.

10 Glasgow Ancient and Modern (1872), 4, p. 991. The façade of the Trades Hall may still be seen in Glassford Street; the building was erected, 1791–94, enlarged in 1808 and 1828 and internally rebuilt in 1887.

11 Blair Adam Muniments: 4/193. Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/4961/77.

12 Newliston was built more or less to Adam’s existing designs, with wings added by David Bryce in 1845.

13 Annan, Pictures of Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry (1878), p. 217.

14 MacGregor, G., The History of Glasgow (1881), p. 374 ; the Adam Infirmary was demolished about 1907.

15 Colvin, H., Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600–1840 (1978), pp. 15859.

16 Haddington Sheriff Court, Register of Improvements to Entailed Estates (S.R.O.); SC40/67/1, 2: Biel Muniments (S.R.O.); GD6/1644/1, 2: the Soane Museum has detailed drawings for interiors.

17 Dalziel, A., History of the University of Edinburgh (1862), 1, p. 90.

18 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/4961/34, endorsed in Susannah Clerk’s hand, ‘Winter 1791’. The General Register House, the earliest purpose-designed record repository in the British Isles, was completed to Adam’s designs externally, with internal modification on the north side, by Robert Reid in the 1820s. Plans were published in The Works in Architecture and a handful of working drawings and plans survive at the Register House.

19 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/5838, 4966, 4969.

20 Ibid. GD18/5549/19, 21.

21 Possibly Louis Cauvin, son of a celebrated French teacher, whose open-house hospitality was said to have been positively imposed upon: John Kay’s Portraits, 2, p. 420.

22 Blair Adam Muniments: 4/206.

23 Colvin, op. cit., 698.

24 Stillman, D., The Decorative Work of Robert Adam (1973), p. 54.

25 References to work by Clinkscales and Aitken at Dunbar, and their contacts with John Paterson, the clerk of works, are to be found in another of Adam’s notebooks; Clerk of Penicuik Muniments : GD18/4965.

26 Papers of Russell and Aitken, W. S. (N.L.S.), Plan 39.

27 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/4961/40.

28 Adam’s death was probably hastened by the effects of stress and overwork. In 1787 William had reminded John, ‘… you are not ignorant of the influence that distressful situations have upon Bob’s constitution and how much they render him unfit for business’; Blair Adam Muniments : 4/1. Margaret Adam’s reference, after Robert had been ill in Edinburgh in the late autumn of 1789, to ‘the complaint in his stummach, which has been so long a tiresome complaint to him’ and her remark that he suffered the pain most ‘when he wants his dinner too long’, suggests what might now be diagnosed as an ulcer; Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD18/4961/18, 20.

29 Clerk of Penicuik Muniments: GD 18/4961/37. The assembly Rooms, built 1796–98, altered early in the nineteenth century, were demolished about 1889. Part of the façade was re-erected as the McLellan Arch at Glasgow Green.

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Architectural History
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