William Adam lived from October 1689 to 24 June 1748. He became the most successful Scottish architect of his generation and founded an architectural dynasty with three sons who also became celebrated architects. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Adam was born in a village that now forms a suburb of Kirkcaldy in Fife. His father, John Adam, was a mason, and his mother was Helen Cranstoun, daughter of the 3rd Lord Cranstoun. He attended Kirkcaldy Grammar School until leaving at the age of 15 in 1704 to become an apprentice mason. In 1714 he entered into an agreement with William Robertson of Gladney to establish a brickworks in Kirkcaldy. The venture was a great success, allowing Dutch pantiles, previously imported in huge numbers, to be manufactured locally.
On 30 May 1716, Adam married Robertson's daughter, Mary, and in 1717 he became a member of Kirkcaldy's mason's guild. Robert and Mary spent part of their early married life touring France and the Low Countries, where Adam picked up many of the architectural influences which were to serve him so well.
1720 found Adam working on a major expansion of Floors Castle, implementing designs by the architect Vanbrugh. His big breakthrough came the following year, when he was commissioned to turn an already grand and impressive Hopetoun House into a still grander and much more impressive one. His work at Hopetoun would continue until his death in 1748, and then be continued by two of his sons, John and Robert Adam.
As well as becoming a renowned architect, William Adam's other business ventures also proved highly successful, ranging from coal mining to salt panning, quarrying and agricultural improvements. In 1728 Adam was made a burgess of Edinburgh, and moved to a house on the Cowgate with his family. In 1730 he was appointed to the government post of Principal Mason to the Board of Ordnance in North Britain and in 1731 he moved with his family to the country estate of Blair Crambeth near Kelty in Fife. He renamed the estate Blair Adam.
In the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, Adam's government position attracted a large number of military contracts, and he expanded his business by bringing in all three of his sons, James, John and Robert. William Adam became ill in late 1747, and died the following year. He is buried in the Adam family mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.
Opinions of William Adam as an architect have tended to vary over time, depending on current tastes. But there is no denying that he has left some remarkable buildings that make Scotland a much more attractive and enjoyable place than it would otherwise be. These include the remodelled Hopetoun House, near Queensferry; The House of Dun, near Montrose; Mavisbank, near Loanhead; Arniston House in Midlothian; Duff House in Banff; Haddo House in Aberdeenshire; Chatelherault near Hamilton; Robert Gordon's Hospital in Aberdeen; Cumbernauld House; Hamilton Old Parish Church; and the Bridge Over the Tay at Aberfeldy; amongst many others.