from Carlops to the Garden Cities of tomorrow

 Exhibition in Jackson Street School on 31 March 2007 by Penicuik Community Development Trust

repeated in Penicuik Town Hall on 25 October 2008.  Jackson Street School demolished 2010



America’s best-known Scotchman -the most distinguished city-planner of our time” New York Survey Graphic 1929

Founded the Town Planning Institute 1914 –now the Royal Town Planning Institute

Founded the American City Planning Institute 1917 –now the American Institute of Planners

Founded the Town Planning Institute of Canada 1919 –now the Canadian Institute of Planners

Guiding influence in the creation of the Institute of Landscape Architects 1931

“I do not think that the effect of good environment, of fine buildings, of pleasant homes, upon the character, temperament, will, disposition, and energy of the people sufficiently dawns upon the average citizen.”


Farmer and Parish Councillor Carlops 1895

Election agent for successful Parliamentary candidate Midlothian 1900

Secretary of the Garden Cities Association, Westminster 1901

Manager of Letchworth, the first Garden City, 1904

First Town Planning Adviser to the British Government 1909

First Town Planning Adviser to the Dominion of Canada Government 1914

Chief Planner for the New York Metropolitan Regional Plan 1923-29

Adviser to President Hoover on Home Building and Home Ownership, 1932

His Outline of Town & City Planning introduced by President Roosevelt, 1935

President of the Institute of Landscape Architects 1937

Thomas Adams was born at Meadow House, Corstorphine, on the outskirts of Edinburgh to Irish-born James Adams a dairyman, and his Scots wife Margaret Johnston, a gardener’s daughter.  The family had spent some years in Corstorphine village when the father died, and young Thomas took on the dairy with his mother at Wester Coates, beside Donaldson’s Hospital.


Donaldson’s Hospital in open fields         Sir Archibald Campbell of Succoth (1852-1932) owner of the Murrayfield Estate.

                                                An evangelist and philanthropist, he later gave part of his Glasgow Garscube Estate for a

                                                 garden suburb at Westerton and much of the rest as open space to the people of Glasgow.

The land at Wester Coates and Murrayfield was starting to be laid out for development, with Edinburgh coal merchant James McKelvie promoting low-cost housing to the south, and the Caledonian Railway opening its new line through Roseburn to Granton and Leith. In 1884, as Tommy Adams entered his teens, this area hosted the International Exhibition of Forestry and Wood Craft drawing visitors to his neighbourhood from all over the world.


Caledonian Railway trains linked Edinburgh with the transatlantic ships                               Sir James King (1830-1910)

The Caledonian Railway gave easy access to the Exhibition here at its new Murrayfield halt (its chairman James King also led the Clydesdale Bank, and as Lord Provost, was to preside over Glasgow’s International Exhibition of 1888) The ornate railway bridge still stands today, and under it ran horse drawn trams past Donaldson’s Hospital to their terminus at Roseburn.  Edinburgh investors were soon to install cable streetcars as designed by Andrew Smith Hallidie in San Francisco. But the talk of the International Exhibition at Wester Coates –opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales- was the electric rail carriage shown by Henry Binko, Austrian-born London chemical manufacturer.


Prime Minister Gladstone tries Henry Binko’s electric tram at the 1884 International Exhibition        Wood craft on show

Just over the horizon from Roseburn the engineering wonder of the world, the Forth Bridge, was taking shape with 1200 men at work in 1884.   Like many of the International Exhibition’s visitors, the Prince and Princess of Wales took time to observe progress. A different sort of progress was soon to be charted in the heart of old Edinburgh. Anna Morton, her husband Patrick Geddes and family moved into the old town to begin their work of renewing and celebrating the Royal Mile which gave the city Riddles Court, Lady Stairs Close, the Outlook Tower and Ramsay Garden, and began a pattern of humane and effective city regeneration that became world famous.


1884’s biggest engineering project the Forth Bridge takes shape       Anna & Patrick Geddes restoring faith in the Old Town

Geddes took an interest in a low cost housing project being developed at Roseburn. Edinburgh was already well known for its low cost housing with several Colonies projects supported by architect and builder, James Gowans.  Groups visited the city from other parts of Britain to see how things were being done. Tommy Adams was also keen on these issues. Aged 20, he went to London for the first annual convention of the British Amateur Press Association in 1892 and was chosen its first President. 

The next year, Tommy Adams became a farmer at Carlops near Penicuik, taking up tenancy in 1893 on the Pentland slopes at Fairslacks by Windy Gowl on the far side of the village, just up the hill from Rutherford Castle and the Well of Heavenly Aqua. He took a very active interest in new local government arrangements, becoming a rural councillor there in 1894 and leading a campaign to remove squatters’ huts from the green. 

This made him well placed to support the young Liberal hopeful Alexander Murray, Master of Elibank (1870–1920) in his two unsuccessful Parliamentary attempts at Edinburgh West in May 1895, and Peebles and Selkirk in July 1895.  Asquith commended these efforts of Elibank’s team. 

Shy, hardworking, but with a twinkle in his eye, Tommy Adams married Corstorphine girl Caroline Bertha Weierter at the end of 1897.  Her father was Frederick Weierter a Prussian-born bandmaster and teacher of trombone and organ –some of the family later scottified their name to Whirter.  In 1898, Adams started his own publication: The Progressive Youth of Great Britain: An Amateur Monthly Journal for Young Authors.

In 1900 Elibank, with Tommy Adams as his agent, took Midlothian for the Liberals and their Labour allies.  Though they won the seat, their party was unpopular in the Boer war and lost the general election.  An ally of party leader Campbell-Bannerman and of the young Winston Churchill, Elibank rose fast in liberal and court circles to become one of the most senior wheeler-dealers of his party, later tarnished in the Marconi share scandal of 1912.

The Master of Elibank in later life.

 When he first took the Midlothian seat In 1900, Campbell-Bannerman called him

 that very thing most difficult to find: an unexceptionable and attractive local candidate”

Elibank went to Westminster, and Thomas Adams and his young family followed his patron south. Adams got a new job as organiser of the Garden Cities Association, a pressure group campaigning for a new approach to congested city slums. Under the visionary Ebenezer Howard, and supported by Fabians, liberals and conservatives alike, the Association grew from strength to strength with hard work from Adams, and he became the director of the Association’s first Garden City development at Letchworth north of London.

Ebenezer Howard, inventor and parliamentary reporter, with two of the diagrams he used to publicise his garden city ideas



                                                                            Adams’ brother in law Louis Weirter’s cartoon in the Letchworth Citizen


The Cheap Cottages Exhibition which Thomas Adams organised at Letchworth in 1905

An untiring publicist for the Garden City movement, Adams left Letchworth for Wolverhampton in 1906, and for the next three years travelled around Britain as a consultant to a variety of garden suburb proposals, including plans for Knebworth with architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and a projected scheme for 8,400 houses at Alkrington north of Manchester.

Adams trademark in these schemes was respect for the local landscape, and he worked closely with Thomas Mawson who with Patrick Geddes had competed in the winning proposals to lay out Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline for the Carnegie Trust.


Together in government: John Burns at the Local Government Board and Winston Churchill at the Board of Trade

John Burns was the first trade union leader to become a government minister in 1906.  Burns introduced the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 during his time in government, and Thomas Adams briefed all parties on its drafting.  To advise councils when the new Act became law, Adams was brought in to be the Board’s Principal Planning Inspector.  He qualified as a surveyor in 1913, and with other surveyors and architects set up the Town Planning Institute for the new profession in 1914.




Caroline’s brother Fred wrote patriotic songs in Australia              New Zealand born Charles Compton Reade (1880-1933). Like Adams,

                                       Reade came to town planning through journalism. In London, Reade took up Adams’ old position as advocate of garden cities

.                                       Later as a government planner in South Australia, Reade designed Adelaide’s showcase garden suburb, Colonel Light Gardens


Adams was called to Canada in the summer of 1914 to advise its Government Commission on guiding the country’s massive development.  Canada in 1914 was a hothouse of big ideas in architecture, planning and industrial relations.  At Prince Rupert, the late Charles Melville Hays (drowned in the Titanic –his descendant lives here in Penicuik) had been looking to architect Francis Rattenbury to create a new Pacific seaboard city to complete his spectacular transcontinental Grand Trunk rail line. In Montreal the Olmsted-trained landscape architect Frederick Gage Todd was engaged in planning a new garden city of Mount Royal for Mackenzie and Mann’s rival transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway. In Calgary, Adams’ erstwhile landscape colleague Thomas Mawson was making plans for the city beautiful; Mawson had also set up a Vancouver office with his son in charge there. Canadian architect Colbourne Meredith and railroad engineer Noulan Couchon were immersing themselves in ideas of city planning.

Charles M Hays (1856-1912), Frances M Rattenbury (1867-1935), Frederick G Todd (1876-1948), Thomas H Mawson (1861-1933)

 Thomas Mawson’s plans for Calgary

Frederick Todd’s Mount Royal and its railway tunnel to Montreal (seen here in section below the plan)         ¯



Adams was employed by Canada’s Commission of Conservation. As Jeanne Wolfe explains, the Commission was “established by Clifford Sifton, then Minister of the Interior, in 1909, it was originally intended to examine the squandering of the Dominion's natural resources. It was rapidly realized that the urban question was an integral part of the problem as water resources, the demands for hydro-electricity, minerals and lumber, not to mention agricultural difficulties, erosion and the destruction of wilderness areas and of human life, were all held up to scrutiny. Anticipating the Brundtland Report by over seventy years, the commission proclaimed that ‘each generation is entitled to the interest on the natural capital, but the principal should be handed on unimpaired.’ It was the commission's medical officer, Dr. Charles Hodgetts, who had been largely responsible for shaping Canadian planning before 1914. A former public health officer and a fierce critic of the ‘army of land speculators and jerry builders,’ which he believed were ruining the cities, Hodgetts lobbied for the appointment of a planning expert. He was not disappointed. In 1914 the commission retained the services of Thomas Adams as town planning consultant to the federal government.  By early 1915, Adams had visited all the provinces except Prince Edward Island. "The keynote of town planning," he said, is "the conservation of life and economy in the system of developing land [so as] to secure efficiency, convenience, health and amenity."  He lobbied for and wrote planning legislation for many of the provinces, founded the commission's journal Town Planning and the Conservation of Life, advised many municipalities on planning problems, often through the local Civic Improvement League, and designed several projects....”


Based in Ottawa, Thomas Adams was soon involved in war-related work. His brother-in-law Louis Weirter was a balloonist-observer and war artist. His son James Whirter Adams also joined up as an airborne observer in France.

Battle of Courcellette 15 September 1916 painted by Caroline Adams’ brother, the artist-observer Louis Weirter.  He was almost the only witness to the controversial exploit of Canada’s air ace Billy Bishop on 2 June 1917


Red Mulock with Niewport Scout

Canada’s War: The Flag by Byam Shaw.  From Canada, Adams’ son James Weierter Adams was appointed Probationary Observer Officer in the Royal Naval Air Service in April 1917, later flying on night bombing raids with Red Mulock's No.27 Group (No.216 Squadron) in northern France.


Adams himself helped to plan the reconstruction of Canada’s Atlantic port of Halifax after a munitions explosion in the harbour devastated the city and killed over 1000 inhabitants.

Clock records massive Halifax explosion morning 6 December 1917 Herald neadline: Halifax wrecked more than 1000 killedHalifax explosion 6 December 1917 

After the Halifax explosion 6 December 1917  Viewing the devastation of the Halifax explosion

 Like Reade in Adelaide, Adams sought to depart from the old grid street pattern to relate much more directly to landscape, greenspaces and patterns of activity. As a private practitioner he planned the Richmond district of Halifax and prepared plans for new communities at Temiskaming in western Quebec and outside Canada, at Corner Brook in Newfoundland.

 In 1917 Adams travelled south to help found the American City Planning Institute.  After the war, he advised the Canadian cabinet on low-cost housing and founded the Town Planning Institute of Canada, moving in 1923 to the United States to lead the team drawing up the New York Regional Plan. His skill was in getting different politicians, experts and community groups to work together and get things done.

“A man to do things and to do them well!” –Charles Dyer Norton

With Frederic Law Olmsted Jnr beside him (left), Adams chairs the New York Advisory Group of Planners, 1923

Adams sailed the Atlantic regularly to spread his ideas –but spent more time in America where he was better known. He appreciated working with Frederic Law Olmsted Jnr., son of the innovative designer of New York’s Central Park and of so many classic American parkway landscapes, and with State Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt (a Democrat) and Federal Commerce Secretary Herbert C. Hoover (a Republican).  Adams and his team published the Regional Plan for New York in 1929.


A far cry from Carlops –the first regional plan for New York 1929

After the New York Regional Plan was completed in 1929, Adams moved to Harvard University to carry out research and write planning textbooks.  He argued for the green spaces between towns with clear arteries of landscaped parkways and railways between them, and in towns for linked parks to be the heart of a foot-friendly circulation system.  Looking to solve the design of efficient layouts and the economics of land development, he promoted the loop and cul-de-sac Radburn design of layout which Stein and Wright had developed in New Jersey in 1929, preferring it to hexagon forms developed by Couchon in Canada and Parker in England.  His landscape and human-centred approach was later to inform some of the post-war development of Britain’s New Towns and be taken up by Edinburgh-based planners like Sir Frank Mears and Robert Naismith, advisers to Penicuik Burgh Council)

In Radburn, “The Town for the Motor Age”, houses faced a network of footpaths and parks, with road access to the rear

By the early 1930s, Tommy Adams had such prominent standing as an expert in town planning and subdivision development in North America that many of his writings were adopted as best practice by government and professionals.  He advised President Hoover’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, 1932, the largest federal conference held till that time. And President Roosevelt, coming in with the New Deal, was an old  friend of the quiet businesslike Scot from his days as New York State Governor.   It was President Roosevelt who wrote the foreword to AdamsOutline of Town and City Planning in 1935.


President Hoover and President Roosevelt : taking America from Depression to the New Deal

Back in Britain, Adams advised briefly on the planning of London, Edinburgh and Dundee.  He presided over the Institute of Landscape Architects and helped to guide King George VI’s Coronation Planting Committee, writing a little book on Playparks with suggestions for their Design, Equipment and Planting.  After his death in 1940 his two sons went on to become major figures in British and American town planning. The elder son James Whirter Renwick Adams led the planning service for the English county council of Kent, his trademark green ink graced many a file in County Hall, Maidstone.  The younger son Frederick J. Adams taught planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.    In the same year-1948- the Town Planning Institute elected James as its president and the American Institute of Planners elected Frederick as its president.

 James W. R. Adams’ son is the illustrator Tom Adams.



Michael Simpson: “Thomas Adams and the Modern Planning Movement: Britain, Canada and the United States 1900-1940” was published in London and New York by Mansell Publishing Company, 1985.





Scotland’s Planning Legacy exhibition


More LIVES & fragments  



Penicuik’s Adams-inspired Radburn development at Cornbank






 Not an unqualified admirer: Lewis Mumford

Poster for London by Lewis Whirter



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more about Thomas Adams, his work & family? –contact Roger Kelly


Our failed attempt to save the building where this exhibition was first shown.


Penicuik’s last papermill on the Esk  THE BANK MILL PROJECT


Campaign to restore General Maczek’s GREAT POLISH MAP OF SCOTLAND