In exploring the built heritage of Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, there are several architects whose names crop up regularly.
William Playfair, Robert Adam, and Thomas Hamilton are just three of the figures whose buildings and grand designs help to give the city its sense of style.
But there are other architects whose buildings were never finished, or have long since been demolished - and then there's James Craig, whose influence on the city was extensive but in a more subtle way.
There are no public memorials to James Craig. Only one structure that he designed still stands in the city, and at the time of his death he was buried in an unmarked grave. But Craig's influence was integral to the city as it stands today, over two centuries after his death - because his was the vision which gave the Georgian-era New Town its distinctive grid system of intersecting straight lines.
Born in Edinburgh in 1739, Craig's father was a city merchant, and his mother was the sister of the poet who wrote the lyrics to Rule, Britannia!. James was the only one of the six children to survive infancy, and was educated at George Watson's Hospital, a school founded to educate the sons of city merchants.
Craig left school in 1755, at the age of 16, and in 1759 began six years of training as an apprentice mason and architect. Despite his work, he appears never to have formally sat his exams, and was never officially a member of the incorporated trades register of architects in the city.
In 1765, the city of Edinburgh launched a public competition to design a layout for the proposed New Town expansion to allow the city to grow across the valley to the north of the mouldering Old Town. Seven architects entered the contest, among them was an idea for a plan drawn up by James Craig.
There is a degree of uncertainty over what Craig's plan looked like at this stage. If you look at the protrait of Craig at the top of this page, you'll see the plans on which he's working resemble the New Town but with a circular element which never manifested in the development of 1767....
There is a suggestion that Craig's original vision took inspiration from the design of the Union Flag which had been drawn up following the union with England in 1707, featuring an element of diagonal streets linking to a central 'circus' - there's even a hand-annotated map which can be viewed at the National Library of Scotland archive of maps which shows what this version of the New Town might have been expected to resemble.
If this was Craig's vision, it would account for him being chosen as the winner of the competition - celebrating the new union was one key intention with Edinburgh's New Town project - but was fundamentally a problematic design. The landscape on which the New Town was developed is a high ridge of rock with steep valleys to its north and south, and constructing a circular intersection at the summit of this ridge would have been architecturally challenging at the time.
So although Craig was picked as there winner, he is believed to have then worked with the council authorities to develop his plan and his vision into a form that would be architecturally practical. And the grid system of the New Town as we know it today was that improved form.
Craig's original drawings for the New Town can be seen today in the Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile. In a case nearby are Craig's pencil case and pens which he used in his work as a draughtsman.
But the layout of the city streets of the New Town are the best celebration of his vision for a modern city - the first example of comprehensive town planning in the UK, and the first time a British city had been built from scratch to a specific plan.
Craig was set for a career as a master architect and town planner - at a time when Edinburgh was growing and building at a faster rate than ever before.
Except Craig was, in the eyes of some of the city's master masons and architectural practitioners, an unqualified amateur - and having been given the opportunity and prestige of laying out the New Town over some of the era's best-known builders and designers, he was considered an unwelcome upstart. So he never fully developed the career he might have anticipated, and although he was associated with a number of major projects in the city, relatively few developed into paid employment for him.
He did build the original headquarters for the Royal College of Physicians, on George Street - the grandest street of his iconic development. The building was constructed in the 1770s, directly opposite St Andrew's Church (now St Andrew's and St George's) on the site of The Dome bar and restaurant today.
As that notation indicates, Craig's building no longer stands - it was never finished to his (or the College's) satisfaction due to rising costs, and in 1843 the building was demolished in order for David Rhind's banking hall for the Commercial Bank of Scotland.
In 1790 Craig was employed to redesign the stable block of Newhailes House, James Smith's Palladian estate property in East Lothian, and was employed to produce engineering plans and drawings for a variety of grand country properties across Scotland.
The only project in Edinburgh which James Craig built and which remains visible to visitors today can be found at the top of Calton Hill at the eastern end of the New Town.
Designed and built in the late 1770s, the City Observatory was a public installation which provided access to the latest astronomical and scientific instruments - when the money ran out in 1777, the building had only been part finished, and would later be completed in 1792.
Although the bulk of the observatory complex was redeveloped by Playfair in the 19th century, the western elevation with its gothic tower still stands today.
Towards the end of his life, Craig had been living his uncle at a house at the bottom of the West Bow in the Grassmarket. His financial situation was precarious because of the lack of work, and any income from cash-in-hands jobs he was able to secure went straight to paying off his creditors.
He had only ever had one paid employment south of the border in England, and Craig lamented in one letter to a friend that he received few offers of work which deviated from what he described as "the monotony of the straight line", a reference to his iconic work designing the grid system New Town.
Craig died of tuberculosis on 23 June 1795. He was buried in an unmarked family plot in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, just a stone's throw from the house in which he died. His grave today is marked with a stone noting his influence on the New Town.
I think it's a shame Craig remains overlooked and broadly uncelebrated, despite the impact his vision had on the Scottish capital. But despite never having achieved his full potential as a grand designer, Craig's influence on Edinburgh was unmistakable and iconic - and still there for visitors to see!
Explore Craig's New Town in more detail with my private city walking tours!
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