|Description||Craig was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the eldest son of William Craig, merchant in Edinburgh, and Mary Thomson, sister of the poet James Thomson. He was educated at George Watson's Hospital, Edinburgh, where he was admitted on 4 April 1748 by right of his father and of his grandfather Robert Craig, a former dean of guild. His date of birth was recorded here as 31 October 1739, which is almost certainly the correct date, although it has previously been given as 31 October 1744 from a probably erroneous entry in the Edinburgh birth register. Craig left Watson's Hospital on 2 May 1755 to become apprentice to Patrick Jamieson, deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons.|
Craig is best-known as designer of the first New Town of Edinburgh. His architectural début was in 1763, when he submitted a proposal to build a bridge across the drained north loch. A plan of the proposed north bridge in the Scots Magazine of July 1763 is signed 'James Craig Delint.', although the actual design may be attributable to George Fraser rather than Craig himself, and a different design was adopted in 1765. However, Craig was awarded the prize in August 1766 for the best of seven plans submitted anonymously for the layout of the New Town itself. The scheme was then developed by a group of advisers, including John Adam and William Mylne, and the final plan was approved by the town council nearly a year later. Craig's prize plan has not survived and it is unclear how much of his initial design was incorporated but he remained closely involved in drawing up the adopted plan, with related plans for drainage and detailed feuing. He had, however, no responsibility for the architectural elevations of the houses in the New Town, which initially had only to conform to standard heights and building lines.
In 1768 Craig published an engraved version of his plan, dedicated to George III, and proudly surmounted by a quotation from Thomson's Prospect of Britain. A manuscript drawing, now in the British Library, was presented to the king in December 1767 for approval of the street names and dedication.
Craig's best architectural work was the Physicians Hall, George Street, Edinburgh, Scotland (1773-9; dem. c1843), a Palladian design for a public building in the centre of one of the first blocks along the principal street of the otherwise domestic New Town. In 1773 he was architect and planner of St James's Square (dem. 1965), a private development at the east end of Princes Street.
Craig died, unmarried, in the West Bow in Edinburgh, Scotland on 23 June 1795, insolvent and unknown. He was buried on 26 June in Greyfriars churchyard, his grave unmarked until 1967, when a slab was placed on the site.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Architectural plans for Physicians' Hall, 1773