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Celebrating World Book Day with a Visit to J. M. Barrie's Birthplace

‘So come with me, where dreams are born and time is never planned. Just think of happy things and your heart will fly on wings, forever in never never land!’

 

-J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan



Nestled in the wee town of Kirriemuir, Scotland, is an old weaver’s cottage. However, this unassuming, modest home has a story to tell. You see, it was once the birthplace and childhood home of one of the most famous writers of our time- J. M. Barrie. Barrie was a novelist and playwright and is best known as the author of Peter Pan. And we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate World Book Day today than by taking you on a virtual visit to J. M. Barrie’s Birthplace. So, close your eyes, think happy thoughts, and with a little help of Tinker Bell’s fairy-dust, we will make our way, ‘second to the right, and straight on ‘til morning’.


Just a quick note before we begin, this article is part of our pledge to carry on the legacy and memory of the Wee Walking Tours’ Goldens, Stirling and Sawyer. While they are sadly no longer with us, we were fortunate to have visited J. M. Barrie’s Birthplace with them before they crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Therefore, we hope you enjoy as they help guide you around this very special place.


James Matthew Barrie was born on 9 May 1860 at 9 Brechin Road in Kirriemuir to David Barrie and Margaret Ogilvy. He was the ninth of their ten children! Let’s head inside the family home for a wee tour.



James’ father was a weaver, and, during the family's time in the house, the downstairs would have been his father's workshop (this was the common set up in traditional weavers’ cottages- the downstairs was for weaving and the upstairs was where the families lived). However, the downstairs of the house today is set-up with various Barrie memorabilia.



One of my favourite rooms is the one set up as if it is J. M. Barrie’s office. There are amazing artefacts including his writing desk where you can find an original typed copy of Peter Pan with Barrie’s own handwritten corrections.



While I could spend hours examining all the fascinating artefacts, we’ll head upstairs to see the family’s living quarters. Looking at the well-worn stairs, I can practically hear the laughter of a young James running up and down as he played with his siblings.



The kitchen and bedroom are set up as it would have been during the Barrie’s time there. It must have been quite ‘cosy’ for the family- especially the children having to squeeze into the box bed.



While countless number of people have found joy and delight in the story of Peter Pan, its origins are quite sad. When James was 6 years old, his brother, David, tragically died in an ice skating accident when he was only 13. David was Margaret's favourite son, and she was beside herself with grief. According to the National Trust, “Barrie tried to console his mother, mimicking the dead boy and dressing in his clothes. From that moment, sorrow, the desire for a mother’s love and the idea of a boy who would never grow up took hold of Barrie’s imagination”. This grief and dynamic created a complicated relationship with his mother that would haunt him his whole life.



Related to Peter Pan, one of the rooms upstairs has various J. M. Barrie-related memorabilia including artefacts from the much-loved play. They have costumes and a programme from it’s first ever performance at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London!





I don’t know about you, but while I’ve enjoyed our tour of the interior, I could use a bit of fresh air. Therefore, we now make our way outside where Sawyer and Stirling have been waiting to guide you around the grounds.



Despite the tragedy of losing his brother, J. M. Barrie’s childhood was also filled with happiness. His mother regaled him with delightful tales of her own childhood in the Kirriemuir weaving community, as well as stories of fairies and lost children. This ignited his imagination, and he would write and put on plays in the wash house just outside the cottage. This wash house is said to be the inspiration for the 'Wendy House' in Peter Pan. Having written and ‘directed’ my own plays as a child, I feel a special kinship with Barrie. Childhood is a magical time, and I envy the fact that he was able to hold on to that imagination and creativity into adulthood.



Situated close to the cottage is a lovely wee garden, Tick Tock's Garden, which only feels appropriate as a way to honour Barrie’s memory as he famously strolled about in Kensington Gardens with his St. Bernard, Porthos, and is where he met the Llewelyn-Davies boys who were the further inspiration for the Peter Pan stories.



Sawyer had such a fun time modelling for photos around the Garden and didn’t even seem phased when he got close to Tick Tock the crocodile! Tick Tock was the name given by Disney to Barrie’s famous crocodile character in their animated version of Peter Pan.



In addition to his work as a novelist and a playwright, J. M. Barrie was also a journalist. Even though he spent most of his adult life living and working in England- mostly London- his mind was never far from Kirriemuir, and he wrote about it in articles and books and visited there often.

 

Barrie is also well-known for his love of cricket and famously was on a cricket team, while living in England, that included his friends and two other famous writers- A. A. Milne (author of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories) and Arthur Conan Doyle. Later in life, on the 7th of June 1930, he gifted the Cricket Pavilion (now known as Barrie’s Pavilion and pictured below) to the people of Kirriemuir “…in memory of happy days and of friendships formed there…”- referring to the hill where the Pavilion is located and where he loved playing as a child.



Sir James Matthew Barrie died of pneumonia in London on the 19th of June 1937. However, he is buried along with his family in Kirriemuir.



While you are in Kirriemuir- or ‘Kirrie’ as the locals say- be sure to wander about and ‘explore and discover’ because, even though it may be a small town, it is filled with history and character (in fact, it was also home to the legendary former frontman for AC/DC, Bon Scot). As you explore, keep an eye out for wee reminders of J. M. Barrie’s connections. For example, in the centre of town is a lovely sculpture of Peter Pan as well as the Barrie Fountain.



Well, that’s going to do it for our virtual tour of J. M. Barrie's Birthplace, but there is so much more to see and experience in person. Therefore, we highly recommend that you visit in person. It is under the care of the National Trust for Scotland, so be sure to head over to their website for more information on how to plan your visit. We are members of the Trust and are strong supporters of the incredible work they do to preserve Scotland’s history and heritage.

 


Lastly, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, today is World Book Day. Therefore, to help celebrate this special day and our recognition of Sir James Matthew Barrie, our very own Wee Walking Tours Golden Retriever tour guide in-training, Walter, decided to dress up as Peter Pan. Here are some photos of his adorable photoshoot.

 


It seems that Walter is trying to think of happy thoughts so he can fly.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!




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