Thomas Adams

town planner
Place of Birth

  • Born      10 September 1871
  • Died       24 March 1940 Sussex

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. Adams moved to London as a journalist where he became interested in the Garden City movement, serving as secretary to the Garden City Association. He was the first manager of Letchworth - a position he held from 1903 to 1906. Adams then established a practice as designer of low-density residential developments that were commonly referred to as "garden suburbs." At Knebworth, an 800-acre estate not far from what would in 1946 become the new town of Stevenage, Adams was associated with Edwin Lutyens. In Wales near Cardiff, the 300-acre Glyn Cory suburb had been the work of Thomas H. Mawson, but Adams apparently provided the finishing details.

Some form of statutory planning had been discussed for years, but it was not until 1909 that the nation's first town planning legislation passed Parliament. By then recognized as an expert in the field, Adams was a logical choice to serve the government in this capacity. Appointed as Town Planning Advisor to the Local Government Board, Adams from 1909 to 1914 occupied a key position in the field. However, it was not until 1913 that he earned professional status when he qualified as a surveyor. In 1914 Adams and others founded the Town Planning Institute, The Royal Institute of British Architects elected him a Fellow, and did the Institute of Landscape Architects which he served as President in 1937-39.

His two sons also became major figures in British and American planning. James W. R. Adams was the planner for Kent, and Frederick J. Adams taught at MIT and headed the programme in planning there for many years. In 1948 The Town Planning Institute elected James its president, and the American Institute of Planners elected Frederick to the same office in its organization.

 1895        Farmer and Parish Councillor Carlops 1895
1900        Election agent for successful Parliamentary candidate Midlothian 1900
1901        Secretary of the Garden Cities Association, Westminster
1903-1906    Manager of Letchworth, the first Garden City,
1909        First Town Planning Adviser to the British Government
1914        Town Planning Institute founded. Adams first president
1914        First Town Planning Adviser to the Dominion of Canada Government
1917        One of the founding members of the American City Planning Institute.
1923-29    Chief Planner for the New York Metropolitan Regional Plan
1932        Adviser to President Hoover on Home Building and Home Ownership,
1935        His Outline of Town & City Planning introduced by President Roosevelt,
1937-1939    President of the Institute of Landscape Architects 1937
1930-1936    Adams taught at Harvard
1921- 1936     Taught at at M.I.T.
1933         Adams founded Town and Country Planning Summer School in England

Reference    Proceedings of the Third National Conference on City Planning
        (Boston: National Conference on City Planning, 1911):27-37.