I had been looking forward to visiting Dumfries House – a small-scale, mid-eighteenth-century, classical mansion, designed by John Adam, the oldest son and heir of William Adam, and his younger and more talented brother, Robert.
The house was built for William Dalrymple-Crichton, the fifth Earl of Dumfries, who was born in 1699, served in the army, and fought as aide-de-camp to his uncle at the Battle of Dettingen, having inherited the title from his mother the previous year. During the 1750s, following the death of his first wife, he devoted himself to the task of constructing a new house in consultation with friends and a neighbours, a model of the mid-eighteenth-century Scottish and Edinburgh élite (Boswell was brought up on the estate next door).
The first reference to his plan to build a new house appears in a letter the Earl’s lawyer wrote in 1749 to the effect that ‘Mr. Adam who I see now in town will with your Lop whenever you desire’. On 7 June 1750, he wrote, ‘I hope Mr Adam has given your Lordship full satisfaction. Is the house to go or not’. As the Earl’s lawyer, he was anxious about the likely cost: ‘I agree with your Lop that you need a new House, bit would not have your Lop go into an expense that would shorten your living comfortable’.
The process of design took some time and it was not until 19 March 1753 that Lord Dumfries was able to write to his friend, the Earl of Loudoun, that ‘Mr. Adam has at last finished the plans & estimates for the new house, but I have not yet seen them and of consequence have taken no resolution about them’. The drawings that accompanied the second estimate, dated March 1753, were drawn by Robert Adam, who was then acting as draughtsman for his older brother’s architectural practice, and he was co-signatory with his two brothers on the contract design dated 24 April 1754, before setting out on the Grand Tour. Lord Dumfries had already paid in advance for a copy of ‘The RUINS of the Emperor DIOCLESIAN’S Palace a SPALATRO in DALMATIA’.
Unfortunately, it was nearly dark by the time I got to see the south front of the house:-