During his lifetime, Scottish political economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) had lived in many houses, including his childhood home in the town of Kirkcaldy, as well as residences in Glasgow and Oxford.
Today, only one of his homes is still standing—albeit on its last legs: the Panmure House in Edinburgh, where Smith, known as the founder of modern economics, lived the last two years of his life. However, the gray stone structure, which was built in 1691 as a grand town mansion, retains none of its former glory. It is dilapidated inside and out, or, as locals describe it, “a derelict ruin.”
That’s because, during the centuries following Smith’s death, different owners and tenants took up residence in the house, transforming its layout to accommodate their specific needs—from an engineering storage shed to a youth detention center, among others. By the 1950s, Panmure was, according to a Historic Scotland report, “ruinous and vandalized and only stone stubs of the internal stair remained.”
But that is now changing.
As part of a $6 million project, the Panmure House is being renovated bit-by-bit; so far, the building and its foundation have been reinforced. The next step will involve re-slating, as well as conservation of its stonework and the replacement of timber windows. The project is spearheaded by Edinburgh Business School, the building’s current owner.
At Panmure House, where the Smith lived with his mother and other family members, he wrote four new editions of his landmark history and economics book, Wealth of Nations. A consummate intellectual, he filled Panmure’s library with 3,000 multi-lingual volumes covering a variety of topics. The house was also a frequent meeting point of other key figures of Scottish Enlightenment, including geologist James Hutton, chemist Joseph Black, architect Robert Adam, parliamentarian William Robertson, historian Hugh Blair, and many other leading figures of the era.
Once refurbished, Panmure House will find its second wind, serving as a venue for lectures, debates, exhibitions, and educational programs, while keeping Smith’s legacy alive.
As the project’s organizers have vowed, “new ideas will flow through these walls as surely as they did in Smith’s day.”