Kirriemuir, Peter Pan and J.M. Barrie

As I said a while ago, we drove north up to Kirriemur in the county of Angus in the last week of our holidays. We’ve visited the wee red sandstone town a few times in the past when our boys were wee and reading them Peter Pan kicked off an interest in J.M. Barrie’s writing in general. This whitewashed building is the ‘tenement’ which the Barrie family lived in, upstairs on the right hand side. He was actually born in this building. They had what is called in Scotland a room and kitchen. The kitchen is a largish room with a cooking range of some sort and usually what is called a bed recess, which is an alcove designed to fit a box bed into. Probably all the kids in a family would have slept in that bed. Today a kitchen like that would be described as a ‘family room’ as it was multi functional. The ‘room’ usually had a bed recess too and the parents slept in that one. Sometimes the ‘room’ doubled up as a sort of parlour during the day. There were eight children in the Barrie family and what with all of them and the noise of the weaving looms, it must have been a bit of a nightmarish existence.

J.M. Barrie's home from street

The ground floor of the building was taken up by a huge weaving loom as Barrie’s father was a weaver, at least he didn’t have far to travel to his work! This photo is actually of the back of the building.

J.M. Barrie's childhood homedoor 2

Opposite the doorway is the washhouse which would have been shared with neighbours I think. This wee building was the inspiration for the Wendy house in Peter Pan. It doubled up as a play house for the children in the area.

washhouse in Kirriemuir

The photo below is fuzzy but you can see that inside the washhouse there was a boiler in the right hand corner, to heat up the water. It still has some of the wash necessities of the day. I can actually remember using a wash board when I was young – and I wasn’t in a skiffle group!

a washhouse interior

This Peter Pan statue is fairly new to the town.

Peter Pan statue

Not one but TWO clocks in the town square. Have you noticed that when I take photos of places it always seems to be about 4 o’clock, we never seem to be able to get out of the house until after lunchtime! I used to blame the kids for this but I don’t have that excuse now!

Kirriemuir town square

Kirriemuir is quite unusual as it was built mainly with red sandstone. It’s a very small, quiet town but in the past it has been heaving with trouble. Some of those cobble stones have been dug up and hurled through windows during times of strikes by weavers when there were mobs in the streets. It was all before Barrie’s time but he got the stories from his mother and used them in his novels.

a street in Kirriemuir.

Kirriemuir is very old fashioned as you can see and to me it feels quite remote from everything. The inhabitants probably do most of their shopping in Dundee or even Aberdeen. It does have small independently owned shops though like a sweetie shop which from the smell of it makes the sweets on the property. I stopped myself from going in though, due to being on a healthy eating kick but we couldn’t get past the ice-cream shop – it was worth it, very good!

Barrie often went back to Kirriemuir and took friends with him too. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that he was sure that the folks of Kirriemuir had no idea that Barrie was really famous in London. I suspect though that it was just that they didn’t want to make too much fuss of him, in case he got a big head. He may have come from humble beginnings but he ended up being very wealthy and famous. When he wrote Peter Pan he didn’t need the money so he donated all of his royalties to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and they still benefit from the royalties despite the fact that it’s more than 75 years since the book was written.

Although nowadays Barrie only seems to be remembered as the author of Peter Pan he was also an incredibly successful playwright. I suppose the best known of them is The Admirable Crichton and he also wrote novels. Luckily Project Gutenberg has quite a lot for free download here. The Little Minister is a good place to start if you want to read some of his novels.

If you’re interested in finding out more about J.M.B then you might want to try to get a hold of The Story of J.M.B by Denis Mackail. Published in 1941, it’s a very good read and as Mackail was Barrie’s godson, he obviously knew him well. In fact quite a few of Barrie’s godchildren became authors. Angela Thirkell was Mackail’s sister and of course there’s the du Maurier connection too.

6 thoughts on “Kirriemuir, Peter Pan and J.M. Barrie

    • Peggy Ann,
      They must have been a very close family! By the time J.M.B. was 10 he was sent to school in Glasgow and two of his oldest siblings were teachers in the same school, so I think that there wouldn’t have been all 8 of them in the house at the same time for too long, and of course one of the boys was already dead by then.

    • Margaret,
      I hope you enjoy his writing if you give him a go. I’m so lucky to have my mother-in-law’s original Peter Pan with the Rackham illustrations, but I’ve also bought some other versions including a Mabel Lucie Atwell illustrated one which I just couldn’t resist.

  1. How NOT to start off my personal Scotland Challenge. Sunday morning, 6:00 the cd alarm goes off blaring Scotland the Brave. It’s a new player, so I hit the snooze instead of the stop. 10 minutes later, Scotland the Brave. Couldn’t turn it off, so pulled the plug. Hubby turns over and asks “Are we being invaded by the Scots?” I replied “If we are stick with me!”
    Will read my daughter’s books on Barrie-thanks.

    • Lorraine,
      Och your poor hubby – but what a laugh! If I were you I’d advance that alarm by two or three hours, 6 o’clock seems madly early!
      Your daughter has Barrie books – I’m really surprised! I hope you enjoy them.

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