George Rae was born in St Andrews on 1 October 1811 and was the first native St Andrews citizen to become an architect in the town. He came to architecture through the family craft of wheel wrighting (repairing wooden wheels) rather than through academic study.
Rae’s lived at 59 South Street, where his crest can still be seen above the window. The house had been in his family since 1782. Although we don’t know much about Rae’s education we know he was an apprentice for his father, Walter Rae, before gaining more experience in Edinburgh.
The first record of Rae as an architect is from the town council minutes of 1844, where he was consulted on the development of South Bell Street.
He went on to design many more developments, most in St Andrews, including several stretches of both North Street and South Street. He even designed a hotel in 1868 that would later become St Regulus Hall, which is now student accommodation for the University of St Andrews!
In 1847, Rae designed the buildings on Playfair Terrace. The listed building report describes the terrace as a late neo-Greek building with 2 storeys, basement and attic, ashlar, channelled ground floor, twin gable centre, palmette finials and a slanted roof.
The two houses at the end of the terrace became The Ardgowan Hotel as it now stands. The original sandstone foundations of the building were revealed and made a feature when our own Playfair’s Restaurant was redesigned in 2011/12.
Playfair Terrace was a comparatively early design of Rae’s. His neoclassical style is identifiable in buildings around the town. You will find other examples on Greyfriars Garden, Gillespie Terrace, North Street and Bell Street.
Undoubtedly, Rae’s most famous contribution to the town was the first phase of the R&A clubhouse, even though the building as it now stands bears little resemblance to Rae’s original design.
Even though golf had been played in St Andrews since the mid-16th century, the Society for St Andrews Golfers was formed by 1766, and royal patronage came in 1836, it was not until 1854 that the clubhouse was built. Rae’s first design was an H-shaped, low building. Subsequent architects added the upper floors and bay windows.
Rae died on February 5th 1869 at Kinloch Manse after a long illness and is buried in the grounds of St Andrews Cathedral.