William Miller – Blantyre 1871


I have found a reference to William Miller, the Victorian poet, coming to Blantyre in 1871 to recover from illness. Word of rural Blantyre or perhaps its healing spring at Auchentibber may have reached William, but I suspect he was not aware of the boom in coal mining industry and industrial activity that was taking place at the time of his decision to come here.

An excerpt from Dennistoun Past and Present by James Baird published in 1922.

There lived in a house at no 4 Ark Lane, Glasgow (on the site now occupied by Fulton’s Engraving Works), for many years William Miller, author of ‘Wee Willie Winkie’, ‘ A Wonderful Wean’, ‘Gree, Bairnies Gree’,  ‘The Sleepy Laddie’, ‘John Frost’ and many other poems.

Miller was born in Glasgow in August 1810 and spent most of his boyhood in the then adjacent village of Parkhead. His earliest inclinations were infavour of surgery as a profession and he studied for some time with that view, but a serious illness when he was about sixteen years of age prevented this intention being carried out. He then became an apprentice woodturner, and in this craft he became a skilful workman, cabinetmaking being his particular line. It is stated that even in his later years there were few who could equal him in speed and excellence of workmanship. Wood-turning continued to be the business of his life, and he wrought at it until within a few months of his death.

A lady who still lives nearby remembers William Miller going out and in from his home always wearing a tall hat, except during working hours. He was by chance a wood-turner, but by nature he was a poet and early in his life he began to write songs and poems, his best known being, of course, ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ which I will quote in full below for the benefit of those not conversant with it.

Miller was laid aside with illness in the winter of 1871, but although his body was weak his intellect was vigorous, and he continued to write poems, which appeared in the ‘Scotsman’, ‘The People’s Friend’ and elsewhere. Previous to this – in 1863 – he issued what is now an exceedingly rare collection of ‘Nursery Rhymes and Poems’ when his reputation as an author became rapidly known. Through the winter months  1871-72 his illness continued, and in the spring his friends had him removed to Blantyre. As he was not recovering, and the end seemed near, he was brought to his son’s house in Glasgow – at his own request – and there he passed quietly away on 20th August 1872, having just competed his 62nd year. He was buried in the family burying ground at Tollcross, a monument, however, being erected by public subscription in the Glasgow Necropolis, commemorating him as ‘The Laureate of the Nursery’.

Wee Willie Winkie
Rins through the toun,
Up stairs and doun stairs
In his nicht-gown,
Tirling at the window,
Crying at the lock,
“Are the weans in their bed,
For it’s now ten o’clock!

“Hey, Willie Winkie,
Are ye coming ben’
The cat’s singing grey thrums
To the sleeping hen,
The dog’s spelder’d on the floor,
And disna gie a cheep,
But here’s a waukrife laddie
That winna fa’ asleep.”

Onything but sleep, you rogue!
Glow’ring like the moon,
Rattling in an airn jug
Wi’ an airn spoon,
Rumbin’, tumblin’, round about,
Crawing like a cock,
Skirlin’ like a kenna-what,
Wauk’nin’ sleeping folk.

“Hey, Willie Winkie –
The wean’s in a creel!
Wamblin’ aff a body’s knee
Like a very eel,
Ruggin’ at the cat’s lug,
Rav’llin’ a’ her thrums-
Hey, Willie Winkie –
See, there he comes!”

Wearied is the mither
That has a stoorie wean,
A wee stumpie stousie,
That canna rin his lane.
That has a battle aye wi’ sleep,
Before he’ll close an e’e-
But a kiss frae aff his rosy lips
Gies strength anew to me.


On social media:

Anne Mackie never knew of all the other marvellous verses xxxxx


Joy McLennan Wow..grandma sang this to me…..mom to me..then me to my grdchildren!


Jean McIntosh I was singing this to my grandchildren just recently. I only knew the first verse. Great story.


Betty McLean Learning something new each day always thought there was only one verse.


Kate Corstorphine Spinelli My father taught me this and I in turn have taught my 4 grandchildren. Like all who commented, I thought there was only 1 verse!


Janise Hendry Only thought there was one verse! Great wee story!

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