Ebenezer James MacRae

Ebenezer James MacRae (18 January 1881 – 15 January 1951) was a Scottish architect serving as City Architect for Edinburgh for most of his active life.


He was the son of Rev Alexander MacRae of the Free Church of Scotland. To family and friends he was generally known as Ben MacRae.[1] He studied architecture under Archibald MacPherson from 1899 to 1907, remaining good friends until death. He trained at both Heriot-Watt College, the University of Edinburgh and later Edinburgh College of Art. He did various sketching tours around the country in his twenties: York, England (1902 and 1904), Melrose (1904), Belgium (1905), Cambridge (1907), Lincoln (1907), Northamptonshire (1907), and Oxford (1907).

In 1908 he trained further, under John Kinross. Late in 1908 he got a post as an assistant in the City Architect's Department of the then Edinburgh Corporation, serving under James Anderson Williamson.

He qualified as an architect in 1914. He served in the Royal Engineers during World War I then returned to Edinburgh as Depute City Architect. In 1925 he was promoted to City Architect, a role he held until retiral in 1946. In 1926 he took over the Director of Housing post from the retiring City Engineer Adam Horsburgh Campbell. From this date onwards the main thrust of his workload would be the provision of high-quality social housing with good space standards and light levels. His team provided around 12,000 houses in the city, many of which in central locations to save tenants travel costs. His housing work is discussed in Volume 13 (2017) of the Book of the Old Edinburgh Club.[2] In 1936, the young William Gordon Dey worked under MacRae undertaking the city survey of the Canongate.[3]

In the mid 1940s he compiled "The Royal Mile" and "The Heritage of Greater Edinburgh": studies of the Old Town and remainder of the city. This document was one of the first to identify buildings worthy of preservation, including several within the Edinburgh New Town and Edinburgh Old Town. It formed the basis of later works such as The Abercromby Plan. A keen historian it is likely that he was instrumental in erecting the first series of historic plaques in Edinburgh: a series of bronze plaques along the Royal Mile explaining various Closes.

His final years as City Architect were relatively unproductive since most public building works ceased during World War II, an exception being the completion of West Pilton to a much depleted specification.

MacRae was noted for his championing of the tenement and for his sensitive infill developments within the Old Town and central Edinburgh. These were designed in a weak C17th Scots style, faced in stone with slate roofs. Elsewhere he built traditional housing in rendered brick, again with slate roofing. He never used concrete block and his department only built one housing development in facing brick, Granton Mains Crescent (1935).

In 1934 he toured Europe as part of a delegation from the Department of Health. The result was the influential 'Report on Working Class housing on the Continent' (1935), also known as the Highton Report.

After retirement he moved out of the city to live at Taprobane in Ratho where he lived with his wife Dorothy Craigie, affectionately known as Mopsy.

His hobbies included ornithology, photography and watercolour painting.

He died at the Deaconess Hospital in the Pleasance Edinburgh after a short illness. He was cremated at Warriston Crematorium on 22 January 1951 and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance there. A memorial plaque to his memory stands in the south arcade of the crematorium.

List of Works

  • Our Lady of Loretto and St Michael RC Church, Musselburgh, works to presbytery and hall whilst working under Archibald MacPherson (1903)
  • Repairs at Kirkwall Cathedral, Orkney, whilst working under John Kinross (1907)
  • Gorgie Cattle Market, Corporation Slaughterhouse and a police station, whilst assisting J A Anderson (1909)
  • 218-240 and 241-243 Ferry Road, whilst Depute City Architect (1920)
  • Kilcalmonell Churchyard, War Memorial Gateway (1921) as a private commission (probably unpaid)
  • Further extensions to Gorgie Market and Slaughterhouse (now as City Architect) (1926)
  • Edinburgh's Tram shelters and waiting rooms (1926) all lost but a waiting room (now converted to a house) still survives at 6 Liberton Gardens
  • Stable court/curator's offices at Lauriston Castle soon after the city's acquisition of this property (1927)
  • His tour de force, Portobello Power Station (1927–34), together with the linked Portbello Lido which borrowed its hot water from the station's cooling pipes. This was the major landmark in Portobello until its demolition 1977 to 1979 (it took 18 months to demolish this giant structure)
  • Prestonfield Housing Scheme (1927)
  • Layout of St Margarets Park, Corstorphine (1927)
  • Stenhouse Housing Scheme (1927)
  • 40-42 Candlemaker Row, remodelling of Candlemakers Hall (1929)
  • 15-19 and 74-84 Grassmarket (1929)
  • Richmond Place, West Richmond Street (1934)
  • Public Library in Corstorphine (1929)
  • Niddrie/Craigmillar Housing Scheme (1929)(largely demolished)
  • 24 houses in Gilmerton on the edge of Edinburgh (1930)
  • Entire layout of East Pilton Housing Estate which includes Royston Mains and Wardieburn (1930 - 1936)
  • Greyfriars Hostel, 2-12 Cowgate (1930)
  • Restoration of 74-96 West Bow (1930)
  • 204 houses in Slateford (1930)
  • 24 houses in Gilmerton (1930)
  • Restoration of 39-43 Candlemaker Row (1930) including a new interior
  • Pavilion at Clarebank School, Leith (1930)
  • Widening of Lothian Road onto an arcade over the graveyards at St Cuthberts and St Johns (1930)
  • Restoration of several tenements on the Canongate as part of the Canongate Improvement Scheme (1930)
  • Alterations to Edinburgh City Library on George IV Bridge (1930)
  • Leith Poorhouse (converted to hospital use in 1939 and renamed the Eastern General Hospital) (1931) now demolished.
  • Numerous combined traffic signs/ street lamps at various T-junctions (still surviving in West End) (1931)
  • Public wash-house on Junction Place, Leith (1931) now demolished
  • Royston Mains Housing Scheme (1931 - 1935)
  • Wardieburn Housing Scheme (1931 - 1935)
  • Wardie Primary School(1931)
  • Craigmillar Primary School (Former School Building) (1932)
  • Gifford Park housing (1932)
  • Saughton Housing Scheme(1932 - 1933)
  • Balgreen Primary School (1932)
  • Braidhills Golf Club pavilion and tearoom (1932)
  • School at Niddrie Mains Terrace (1932)
  • Portobello Outdoor Swimming Pool ("Lido") (1933)
  • Council housing at Barony Street (1933)
  • Additions to Nurses Home at Bangour Village Asylum (Bangour Hospital) near Uphall, West Lothian (1934)
  • Addition of east and west wings to the City Chambers (facing the Royal Mile) (1934)
  • Craigentinny Primary School (1935)
  • Tenement infill at 49 Buccleuch Street (1935)
  • Georgian replica tram depot offices at 3-5 Smiths Place (off Leith Walk (1936)
  • Edinburgh City Chambers, internal refit largely remodelling main stair and increasing windows there (adding stained glass) (1936)
  • Recessed block at 28 West Port (1936)
  • Piershill housing scheme (1936)
  • Crewe Road Gardens Housing Scheme, West Pilton (1936)
  • West Pilton Housing Scheme (1936 - 1951)
  • Edinburgh's Police Boxes (around ninety in number) ( c.1937)
  • St Francis RC Primary School, Craigmillar (1937) (Former School Building - Demolished in 2009)
  • Royston Primary School (1937) (Demolished in 2010/2011)
  • Granton Primary School (1937)
  • Murrayburn Primary School (1938)
  • Craigmuir Primary School, West Pilton (late 1930s) (Now Demolished)
  • 3,4, 5 St Patrick Street (1938)
  • Peffermill School (1939)
  • Blocks 24 and 25 at Bangour Hospital (1939)
  • Holy Cross Academy (1939)
  • Tanfield Primary School (1939)
  • Extensions to the City Poorhouse at Craiglockhart (1939)
  • Tenement at 174 Morrison Street (1939)
  • Ferry Road Housing, West Pilton (1939 - 1940)

MacRae appears to have been involved in several projects promoting the history of Edinburgh: a series of bronze plaques at the head of the various historic closes along the Royal Mile, explaining their history; works at the Marquis of Huntly's house removing ground floor shops and addition of faux stone inscriptions; works in Greyfriars Kirkyard, consolidating tombs and organising recarving of several panels on the tops of tombs (leading to their current homogenuity.


  1. Diary of Dorothy MacRae
  2. Ebenezer MacRae and Interwar housing in Edinburgh by Steven Robb, BOEC Volume 17 (2017)
  3. Goold, David. "Dictionary of Scottish Architects - DSA Architect Biography Report (January 25, 2017, 4:50 pm)".
  • Dictionary of Scottish Architects.
  • Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh by Gifford McWilliam and Walker
  • Buildings of Scotland: Lothian by Colin McWilliam
  • Granton History.
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