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James Craig Architect

  • Name  : Craig
  • Born  : 1744
  • Died  : 1795
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Winning the competition to design Edinburgh's New Town in 1766

By the middle of the 18th century, the citizens of Edinburgh were too filthy for their own good.

Born in Edinburgh, Craig made his name as an architect for his layout of that city's New Town. The Old Town sprawled along the spine of volcanic rock between Holyrood House and Edinburgh Castle, and in many ways, mostly unsavoury, it was an extraordinary site. In 1603, the time of the Union of the Parliaments, it probably contained more people than any other city in Britain, except London and perhaps Bristol. There were about 30,000, with another 5,500 in Leith.

The population continued to increase, but not by building outwards; rather by building upwards, by sub-dividing the fine old houses into many one-roomed flats, and by building over the gardens. By 1700, some tenements reached a horrendous 14 stories high on the sloping side. Not only were they over-crowded, they were filthy, even by Scots standards, which were regrettably filthy enough even in rural areas.

'Every street shows the nastiness of the inhabitants: the excrements lie in heaps' In a morning the scent was so offensive that we were forc't to hold our noses as we past the streets and take care where we trod for fear of an accident disobliging our shoes, and to walk in the middle at night for fear of an accident on our heads. The lodgings are as nasty as the streets, and wash't so seldom that the dirt is thick eno' to be par'd off with a shovel; every room is well-scented with a close-stool, and the master, mistress and servants lye all on a flour, like so many swine in a hogsty. This, with the rest of their sluttishness, is no doubt the occasion of the itch which is so common among them.'

So wrote Joseph Taylor in 1705, and this was not about the poorest of the town, but the middle-classes. Enough was enough, even to the Town Council, and in 1766 they held a competition, for plans to extend Edinburgh on the far side of the Nor' Loch. Six plans were received, with James Craig's being the winner. His plan was quite straightforward, consisting of a rectilinear plan of three main streets, Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street, running parallel, with a square at each end. The whole plan was a grid some five streets deep and seven streets wide, the broad central axis terminating in grand squares at each end. St George's Church sat at the western end of the scheme, St Andrew's at the eastern.

In the New Town, the filth was not quite as evident as it had been in the Old Town; the middle classes were by now gaining a new respect for sanitation, at least as far as the main thoroughfares and their own living quarters, the sanitation for the poor areas still had a long way to go.

Craig's career was brief and was mainly based in Edinburgh. Other work included: Observatory House on Calton Hill (176-92).

He was never really successful after the New Town, and died in debt.

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