Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Craig
Born: 31 October 1739
Died: 23 June 1795
Bio Notes: James Craig was born in Edinburgh on 31 October 1739, the son of William Craig, merchant, and his wife Mary Thomson who was a sister of the poet James Thomson. From 1748 he was a pupil at George Watson’s Hospital. The fact that he attended a charitable institution suggests that Craig’s father was not a wealthy man. In 1755 he was articled to Patrick Jamieson, a mason in Edinburgh and deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons. Unlike some of his contemporaries he did not have the means to make the Grand Tour, nor could he afford to set up business as a master mason. Craig’s first essay in architecture was in 1763 when he submitted a proposal to build a bridge across the drained Nor’ Loch to encourage the development of the land belonging to the city to the north. He was a good draughtsman, in July that same year he was employed to draw a plan and elevation of the proposed North Bridge in Edinburgh, which seems to have been designed by George Fraser. The purpose of this plan was to attract tenders. It was published in the ‘Scots Magazine’.

Also in 1763 Craig was the winner of the competition for laying out the New Town of Edinburgh. Seven entries were received and Craig’s plan was judged to be the best. A main reason for its success was the plan made good use of the contours of the site. However it was not considered to be without fault by the assessors who included Sir James Clerk and John Adam. William Mylne also proposed some amendments and it was not until three years later in July 1767 that the revised plan was formally approved. The original plan and the final plan with amendments were published in successive editions of John Laurie’s ‘Plan of Edinburgh’ published in 1766. The main difference was the original central square with streets radiating out at the corners to the perimeter of the houses was replaced by squares at each end of the New Town. The changes meant that there were no awkward triangular plots as Craig’s original plan would have created. Craig had no hand in the design of the elevations in the New Town. Initially buildings simply had to conform to standard heights and building lines.

Craig was awarded a gold medal and freedom of the city which had been promised to the winner of the competition. In October 1767 Craig travelled to London and presented King George III was a copy of the revised plan, which is now lodged in the British Library.

Craig’s best architectural design was that for the Physicians Hall in George Street, Edinburgh. In 1786 Craig published a further plan showing the layout of roads leading to the South Bridge in a pamphlet entitled ‘Plan for Improving the City of Edinburgh’. The layout included a crescent and an octagon and showed more inventiveness than the scheme for the New Town. The plan, if it had been adopted which it was not, would have involved extensive demolition.

Craig was not responsible for any of the buildings in the New Town. It has generally been accepted that Craig was responsible for the layout and the design of the houses in St James's Square (see Cruft and Fraser, 1995), although the feuing plans which were published in various versions do not show elevations but only the ground plan of the square and surroundings. However in the absence of firm documentation, whether or not Craig designed the houses must remain somewhat uncertain. St James's Square was a privately commissioned speculation by the solicitor Walter Ferguson, WS. It was not completed for a number of years. The elevations were treated as a uniform composition with severe and elegant detailing.

In the mid-1770s Craig was sufficiently busy to employ James Begg as draughtsman. He was involved in the early stages of the Observatory project the foundation stone of which was laid in 1776.

Craig was involved in a scheme for the plan for the grid of streets in Blythswood and Meadowflatt in Glasgow which seems to have originated in plans drawn up in 1792 for Colonel Campbell of Blythswood and the City authorities. Nothing was done until after 1800 and Craig had no hand in the architectural character of the area.

Craig never achieved the status of architects like Robert Adam and Robert Mylne nor did he have an extensive practice. After 1781 he was always borrowing money and he died in debt. (His assets were valued at £102 17s 10d and his debts amounted to about £250).This was partly due to the fact that he did not evolve to incorporate the new neo-classical style and details. He continued to design in the Palladian manner with some rococo details. However his character may also have been to blame. He was arrogant and intractable. Colvin quotes the ‘Scottish Register’ of 1795: ‘he was unfortunate, owing chiefly perhaps to some visionary idea of consequence which he fancied he was entitled to indulge on account of his relationship to Thomson the poet, a connection which he vainly flattered himself was to procure him consideration and employment, and to supersed in him the necessity of prosecuting those sober plans for success in life which prudence requires of other men’.

Craig died unmarried in the West Bow, Edinburgh on 23 June 1795. His library can be reconstructed from the inventory prepared by the Edinburgh auctioneer Cornelius Elliot. His books included a number of publications covering the architectural orders and theory, building manuals and pattern books and also books whose intellectual content would inform a keen mind anxious to be involved in the Edinburgh Enlightenment.

A portrait of James Craig is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The painting shows Craig with a plan of the New Town on his lap (with a central octagon) and his drawing for the Physicians Hall at his feet, indicating what he considered to be his more important works.

Employment and Training

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1James Begg1770s Draughtsman 

Buildings and Designs

This was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 40 Hopetoun estate, farm buildings  West LothianScotlandSigned drawings
Item 2 of 401763New Town plan  EdinburghScotland 
Item 3 of 401763North Bridge  EdinburghScotlandScheme submitted - under direction of George Frazer. Scheme engraved subsequently.
Item 4 of 40After 1763Holyrood, Abbey Court and Physic Garden  EdinburghScotland 
Item 5 of 40After 1765Building beside the General Post Office  EdinburghScotland 
Item 6 of 40176935 St Andrew Square  EdinburghScotlandNew staircase and alterations
Item 7 of 401769Mount StuartRothesay (near)ButeButeScotlandDesign for alterations drawn up. Not executed.
Item 8 of 401769St Andrew's Church  Dundee Prepared plans for St Andrew's Church which Samuel Bell developed and executed. RCHAMS (1992) Dundee on Record, p17
Item 9 of 401770MountquhanieKilmany Fife Proposed alterations
Item 10 of 401770Survey of the Island of InchcolmInchcolm FifeScotlandSurvey
Item 11 of 401771LazarettoInverkeithing FifeScotlandDesigns drawn up.
Item 12 of 401773St James's Square  EdinburghScotlandMay have been responsible for elevations but not absolutely certain.
Item 13 of 401773Tern Hall Atcham ShropshireEnglandTopographical drawing.
Item 14 of 401773University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandReplacement of vault by timber roof.
Item 15 of 401774Circus in the New Town  EdinburghScotlandAmended version of the New Town plan including circus at the intersection of Frederivck Street and George Street.
Item 16 of 401774Merchant Street  EdinburghScotlandPlan and elevation for building on feus offered.
Item 17 of 401775Dalkeith House  MidlothianScotlandProposed addition of wings
Item 18 of 40c. 1775Inveresk Church, Mounment to John Fullerton (d.1775)Inveresk MidlothianScotland 
Item 19 of 401776Physicians' Hall  EdinburghScotland 
Item 20 of 401776(?)The Old Observatory, Calton Hill  Edinburgh  
Item 21 of 401777Ballast QuayLeith EdinburghScotlandSubmitted offer. William Jamieson also submitted offer.
Item 22 of 401777Greyfriars Churchyard, Urn in memory of Provost Kincaid  EdinburghScotland 
Item 23 of 401777St Giles Cathedral  EdinburghScotlandVarious proposed alterations in 1777 - not executed. However Craig given contract in 1780 for various works including refitting of High Church (i.e. choir) with Gothic pulpit, galleries etc.).
Item 24 of 401778Botanic Garden with gardener's house and screen walls and entrances   EdinburghScotlandVarious proposals for the Garden - wall monuments, additions to West Stove, alterations to entrance and gardener's cottage. Also enlargement of the East Stove (hothouse) which was executed.
Item 25 of 401778Signet Library  EdinburghScotlandUnexecuted design for library and new hall for the Writers to the Signet
Item 26 of 401779Botanic Gardens, memorial urn to Carl Linnaeus  EdinburghScotland 
Item 27 of 401779Tenements flanking Physicians' Hall  EdinburghScotlandMade drawings for these feus - building eventually built to designs of William Smith builder.
Item 28 of 401779Tenements, Libberton's Wynd  EdinburghScotlandSurvey plans drawn up as part of a legal dispute
Item 29 of 401780Gun batteryLeith EdinburghScotland 
Item 30 of 401780The Bridewell PrisonCalton Hill EdinburghScotlandCraig paid for plans for a Bridewell (two schemes). Craig's designs engraved in 1780 and later published in a pamphlet which is related to a later proposal by Provost David Steuart on the subject of a Bridewell. Later pamphlet dated 1782. Both proposals seem to have been for a site on the old City wall.
Item 31 of 401781Building at rear of Tontine Building  GlasgowScotlandPlans for Coffee house, Tavern and other buildings of the Tontine Society drawn up.
Item 32 of 401781Music Hall and Assembly Rooms  EdinburghScotlandDirectors of Assembly Rooms considered purchasing Physicians' Hall but decided against this. Craig was a subscriber to the fund - in the hope that he might obtain the job? But he acted as one of the assessors along with Captain Andrew Frazer. Craig drew up a 'rude sketch' but did not formally enter competition.
Item 33 of 401781The College  EdinburghScotlandSubmitted estimates for a new classroom to be situated below the College Museum.
Item 34 of 401785Callendar HouseFalkirk StirlingshireScotlandProposed internal alterations for William Forbes.
Item 35 of 401786Island of May Lighthouse  FifeScotlandSurvey of lighthouse and plans for alterations and report on the building.
Item 36 of 401786Scheme for development of road from Register House to Nicolson Street  EdinburghScotlandPublished pamphlet for scheme which included main thoroughfare as well as new roads leading to it, with octagon of flats and shops arounf the Tron Kirk.
Item 37 of 401788Kirkcaldy HarbourKirkcaldy FifeScotlandPlans drawn up for improvement.
Item 38 of 401788Square for Robert Hope  EdinburghScotland 
Item 39 of 401788The Buchanan MonumentKillearn StirlingshireScotland 
Item 40 of 401792Layout of streets in Blythswood and Meadowflatt  GlasgowScotlandCraig asked by Glasgow Town Council to make a plan of Meadowflatt as he was being already employed to make a plan for Colonel Campbell of Blythswood of his building ground. The Council deemed it an advantage to have the streets corresponding with one another.


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this :
Item 1 of 6Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 2 of 6Cruft, K and Fraser, A (ed)1995James Craig 1744-1795   
Item 3 of 6New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography  Article by Kitty Cruft and Andrew Fraser
Item 4 of 6RCAHMS1992Dundee on Record RCAHMSp17
Item 5 of 6Walker, Frank1982The Glasgow Grid Markus, (ed) Order in Space and Society 
Item 6 of 6Youngson, A J1966The Making of Classical Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this :
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 6Architectural Heritagebetween 1994 and 5V 'James Craig architect of the First New Town in Edinburgh' by Anthony Lewis and John Lowrey'.
Item 2 of 6Architectural History1971XIV 'Plans of the New Town of Edinburgh' by M K Meade
Item 3 of 6Caledonian Mercury27 August 1787   
Item 4 of 6Scots Magazine1795  p411
Item 5 of 6The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club1992NS 2 'New Light on the First New Town' by Stuart Harris.
Item 6 of 6The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club2002NS 5 'James Craig, 1739-1795: Correction of his Date of Birth' by Kitty Cruft.

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this :
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Courtesy of Antony C O JackInformation sent to Dictionary Sent October 2015
Item 2 of 2New Register HouseWills and TestamentsCC 8/130/1Testament and probate inventory.