Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Wednesday, 9 June 2010 12:18 UK
JM Barrie's love of Kirriemuir

Kirriemuir's impact on JM Barrie

Peter Pan author JM Barrie was born 150 years ago in the town of Kirriemuir.

Barrie's work was heavily influenced by his childhood spent in "the little red town".

Kirriemuir is celebrating Barrie's 150th anniversary throughout 2010.

As part of the Angus Glens Walking Festival, Sandra Affleck of the Kirriemuir Heritage Trust led a walk through Kirriemuir in celebration of Barrie's relationship with his home town.

'First play'

JM Barrie was born in Kirriemuir in 1860. The youngest son of of David Barrie and Margaret Ogilvy, Barrie's family can be traced back to the area for many generations.

Interior of wash-house at JM Barrie's Birthplace Museum in Kirriemuir (image permission given by NTS)
Barrie performed plays on the lid of the wash-house boiler

Barrie's father made his living as a handloom weaver. The traditional stone-built cottage where Barrie was born is now amalgamated with the house next door, where Barrie's grandfather lived, and functions as Barrie's Birthplace Museum.

The small stone house was where Barrie nurtured his love of books and literature. The lid on the boiler in the family wash-house acted as a makeshift theatre for Barrie and his playmates.

Many years later, on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the Kirriemuir Observer, Barrie recalled the home of his childhood friend Johnny Mills, whose father published the newspaper: "the old shop in Bank Street was my first introduction to literature and in a room above it, the stage being a bed and the actors puppets, I saw my first play."

Kirrie roots

Barrie was born on the cusp of one era and another. His father was aware that the handloom weaving industry was coming to an end as weaving work moved to factories.

Kitchen area in Barrie's Birthplace Museum (image permission courtesy of NTS)
The kitchen area upstairs in Barrie's birthplace, out of shot is a box-bed

As a result, Barrie's parents were acutely aware of the importance of education for all of their children. Barrie was schooled in Kirriemuir and Forfar before continuing his education in Glasgow and Dumfries with the help of his older brother Alexander. He continued his studies by completing a degree at Edinburgh University before moving to London to pursue his career in writing.

Barrie never forgot his Kirrie roots. Barrie's birthplace is now filled with artefacts from Barrie's London life as well as Peter Pan memorabilia but the house upstairs gives a glimpse into his childhood where one can imagine Barrie being told stories by his mother at the hearth, or putting on plays using a box-bed as a makeshift theatre.

Barrie's mother encouraged imagination in her children, urging Barrie to write the next instalment in "penny-dreadful" comics himself when he could not wait for the next instalment of the comic. Barrie's home was surrounded by countryside which offered him inspiration and freedom evident in his writings.

'Death and her boy'

It is said that Barrie's childhood came to an end at the age of six. His brother David was attending school in Lanarkshire under the care of older brother Alexander and sister Mary. Tragedy struck when David died after a skating accident the day before his 14th birthday.

Peter Pan memorabilia in Barrie's Birthplace Museum in Kirriemuir (image permission courtesy of NTS)
Barrie's Birthplace Museum contains Peter Pan costumes and memorabilia

Barrie's mother, who had a soft spot for David, was devastated. She had tried to "get between death and her boy" but death snatched him away before she even boarded the train in Kirriemuir.

David never got to grow up and this impacted on Barrie's life and writing. The seeds were sown for Barrie writing Peter Pan. Barrie donated all proceeds from "Peter Pan", "Little White Bird" and "Peter and Wendy" to Great Ormond Street Hospital for children.

This may have been his way of getting "between death" and other people's children.

Last resting place

Barrie remained devoted to the town of Kirriemuir and kept in touch with friends and family whilst pursuing his London literary life.

JM Barrie's grave in Kirriemuir
JM Barrie is buried in his family plot in Kirriemuir Graveyard

He donated a cricket pavilion and camera obscura to the town and was made a freeman of Kirriemuir in recognition of his literary achievements.

Barrie returned to Kirriemuir in 1930 for the opening of the pavilion and for the ceremony where he was granted freedom of his home town. He later returned in 1933 for a town band bazaar but this was to be his last visit.

Barrie died in 1937 and chose to be buried in Kirriemuir. As a baronet Barrie was entitled to a funeral service in Westminster Abbey and could have had his last resting place in Poet's Corner in recognition of his literary success. Instead he had chosen to have his funeral at St Mary's Church in Kirriemuir and his burial place in the family plot in Kirriemuir graveyard which overlooked his beloved home town.

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