Friday, February 15, 2008

A Tour of Adam Smith's Sites in Edinburgh

Yesterday, I had a visit from a German journalist who flew up to Edinburgh from Germany, via London on British Airways (which ‘lost’ his luggage; no surprise).

He wanted to see where Adam Smith worked when he was a Scottish Commissioner of Customs from 1778-1790, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the Royal Exchange and Custom House was still standing and is still used by Edinburgh City Council, who took it over in 1811.

The Customs House was built in 1761 and occupies a sizeable and magnificent Georgian building, complete with a large courtyard. Adam Smith worked there four days a week, except when he was in London briefing Prime Ministers and cabinet members on policy issues in public finance and on his criticism of mercantile political economy.

This year sometime, the first ever public statue of Adam Smith will be erected opposite the Custom’s House across the High Street (Royal Mile). The magnificent bronze statue has been cast and is being prepared for its erection on a stone plinth (19 feet in height in total). It will face downhill towards where he lived and is buried.

The statue was paid for by public subscriptions (no taxation subsidies or grants from government), which was organised by the Adam Smith Institute (London), and anybody wishing to make a donation (large or small) to cover the costs of the events around its unveiling would find a welcome via: Eamonn Butler, Director, at:

Smith walked up the ‘Royal Mile’ from his house about 600 yards from his home, at Panmure House, a substantial building built just back from the Royal Mile, the road connecting the Castle with Holyrood Palace, formerly the monarch’s permanent residences up to the Union of Crowns in 1604, when James 6th and 1st decamped from Edinburgh to London (Holyrood Palace remains a royal residence when the Queen is in Edinburgh).

I took my guest down to the house rented by Adam Smith from Lord Panmure, through Panmure Close, in which he lived with his mother and cousin for the last 14 years of his life. The building is now used as the social work department’s offices.

I reported to my visitor that Esmee Fairbairn Research Centre, at Heriot-Watt University, had been offered a lease on Panmure House in the 1970s, which today would have had immense potential as a library, conference centre and visitor’s site, if only ….

[Any donor with sufficient money to make a move to acquire a lease on the building for these purposes surely would be welcomed in Edinburgh!].

Walking too and fro, each day from Panmure House, Adam Smith would pass Canongate Kirkyard, where he was to be buried in 1790. His fairly plain grave, recently tidied up, is set against the wall to the left entering the Church gate. Small brass casts of his iconic likeness lead you to the grave stone, surrounded by an iron railing mounted on a low stone wall on three sides, the fourth side is formed by the rear wall of the house fronting on to the Royal Mile.

Incidentally, am always willing, if mutually convenient, to act as a guide to any reader of Lost Legacy who visits Edinburgh and who wishes to walk along the Royal Mile and see these three hsitoric places that were closely related to Adam Smith. Just drop me a line to this Blog.


Blogger Unknown said...

I'm going to be in Edinburgh March 5-8th and will be doing research on Adam Smith and his role in the Scotish Enlightenment period. Can you send me more information about your tour and when its offered/fee's.

Thank you,

12:54 am  
Blogger grupo 5 said...


could you send me more information about your tour please ? I am looking into going to Edinburgh to visit Adam Smith sites.

My email is:


5:59 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I found this request for an Adam Smith tour today (30 June 2014) on Lost Legacy.

Assuming you are still interested, I continue to offer the tour to interested persons. There is no charge. I usually get two or three requests per year.

We start at Adam Smith's statue erected by St Giles' Cathedral on the High Street (Royal Mile) running from the Castle down hill to Holyrood Palace.

Smith's statue is opposite Edinburgh City Chambers, where he worked as Scottish Commissioner of Customs from 1778-90.

From the statue we walk downhill past the hole of John Knox, the Presbyterian Preacher whole clashed often with Queen Mary in the 17th century.

When we reach the Canongate Kirkyard, we enter the graveyard and see where Adam Smith was buried in July 1790.

From the Canongate Church (built in 1695) we go almost 'next door' to reach Panmure House, where Smith lived from 1778 to 1790. This building is now owned by Edinburgh Business School (Heriot-Watt University) and is being restored (slowly) from funds proved by private donations and some grants from a few public bodies.

The tour ends with a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe. Just down the road is the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace (both open to tourists.

If you wish to book a tour, please given me notice. Please not: I am recovering from a 2nd stroke and walk slowly, otherwise fine.

Best wishes

Gavin Kennedy, Emeritus Professor
(Edinburgh Business School)

12:15 pm  
Blogger Jekabs Bikis said...

Dr. Kennedy,
I would love to take you up on the offer! I have been teaching university level economics for the last 13 years in the USA and in Lithuania, and I am a big fan of Adam Smith. My wife and I make our first visit to Edinburgh on May 7-9 and would love to go on a tour with you. My students read parts of the Wealth of Nations in macroeconomics (although not the Theory of Moral Sentiments, or not yet); it would be so great to learn more about the man. My brother and his wife may join also, in which case there would be 4 of us. My contact is Thanks! (I hope your health is well, in light of your comment from 2014.) Jekabs Bikis

9:14 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Gavin, this is great that you do this. I'll be in town (from the USA) on 6/14 - 6/15. Would you be available for a tour then?

1:50 am  
Blogger TM said...

My husband and i are in town on Oct. 9-11. Any chance we can meet up for a tour? Tracymcg3@yahoo

1:01 pm  

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