Ebenezer James MacRae

One of Macrae's wings on Edinburgh City Chambers

Ebenezer James MacRae (18 January 1881- 15 January 1951) was an important early 20th Century 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, Edinburgh University 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 1936, the young William Gordon Dey worked under MacRae undertaking the city survey of the Canongate.[2]

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 very 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.

Memorial plaque to Ebenezer James MacRae, Warriston Crematorium

His final years as City Architect were relatively unproductive since most public building works ceased during World War II. He was noted for his sensitive infill developments within the Old Town and central Edinburgh, most of which were faced in stone.

After retiral 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.

Gifford Park- a typical MacRae scheme
MacRae's Police Box design for Edinburgh
One of the bronze plaques erected under Macrae (Anchor Close)

List of Works


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