Eye Spy Glasgow: Wee Willie Winkie

Graveyards are fascinating places for uncovering titbits of historical information - and Glasgow's Necropolis is a veritable treasure trove.

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The great and the good - lords, ladies, politicians, businessmen, church leaders - have all been honoured there with impressive stone memorials.

And sitting in one of the most prominent locations is a stone commemorating one William Miller, a cabinet maker who died destitute.

His name might not ring a bell but the reason for his fame is known to everybody.

For Miller, who was born in the city's Briggate area and raised in Dennistoun, was the man who wrote Wee Willie Winkie.

The poem has become an integral part of childhood for millions of youngsters the world over since it was written in 1841.

It first appeared - simply called Willie Winkie - in 1842 in a collection of poems called Whistle-binkie: Stories for the Fireside.

Miller achieved a degree of fame as a result and he became known as the Laureate of the Nursery. But it failed to make him a fortune and his life story is rather tragic.

He had always wanted to become a surgeon but that dream had been shattered by ill-health. Instead he was apprenticed to a wood turner and became a cabinet maker.

By the time he was 36 he had all but given up on his poetical career although he did publish a volume of his work in 1863, entitled Scottish Nursery Songs and other poems.

In 1871 he had to retire from work due to an ulcerated leg. It became dreadfully infected the following year, leading to his death from spinal paralysis at the age of 62.

At the time of his death he was in poverty and he left behind a wife and two sons.

Miller was buried in an unmarked grave in Tollcross Cemetery. A few years later the Necropolis memorial was erected by public subscription.

It is easy to find, on the main path across the footbridge from Glasgow Cathedral.

Wee Willie Winkie was written in Scots. It has been translated into many languages since Miller wrote it and is arguably the best-known of all children's nursery rhymes.

But how many people know it was the work of a wood worker from the East End of Glasgow?

Do you remember the rhyme?

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown,
Tapping at the window and crying through the lock,
Are all the children in their beds, it's past eight o'clock?


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