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King's Inch, near Glasgow: unexecuted designs for a house for Alexander Speirs, 1776 (8)

Signed and dated

  • 1776


In 1776 Robert Adam prepared drawings for the house of Elderslie (or King's Inch) in a select area near the Clyde to the west of Glasgow for Alexander Speirs (1714-82), a wealthy and prominent 'tobacco lord' based in Glasgow. Speirs amassed a fortune as a tobacco and sugar merchant with plantations in the colonies. His marriage into the affluent Buchanan family reinforced his position in the mercantile elite. Together with Glassford and Cunningham, he led a syndicate that controlled no less than 20% of the tobacco that landed on the Clyde in 1774 and 1775. His accomplishment in turning the commercial interruptions caused by the American War of Independence (1775-83) into an opportunity for personal gain helped to secure his reputation as 'mercantile god of Glasgow'.

In the 1760s Speirs turned his attention to the acquisition of land, purchasing his first Renfrewshire estate at the age of 50. Eager to enlist his family in the landed nobility, he obtained a number of properties in the county of Renfrew. It is estimated that by his death he had expended £174,226 on hereditable property in Scotland, consolidating the main estate into the 'barony of Elderslie', which he bequeathed to his son Archibald.

Speirs envisaged the creation of a family seat on this estate, employing Robert Adam as architect. In 1776, Adam produced the drawings now extant in the Soane Museum, but there were not executed. A similar, yet simplified version of this scheme was built between 1772 and 1782, and destroyed in 1920, and there are no visible remains of the house today. According to Devine, construction costs for this house were around £10,000. It is not known whether Adam was involved in the simpler executed scheme, nor whether he contributed to its interior decoration.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 20; T.M. Devine, 'A Glasgow tobacco merchant during the American War of Independence: Alexander Speirs of Elderslie, 1775-1781', The William and Mary Quarterly, Volume 33, number 3, July 1976, pp. 501-13; D. King, 'In search of Adam', Architectural Heritage, Volume 4, 1993, p. 94; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 381, 389-90, Volume II, pp. 79-80, 125, 265

Tom True, 2014



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of King's Inch, near Glasgow: unexecuted designs for a house for Alexander Speirs, 1776 (8)