Sir James Matthew Barrie
James Matthew Barrie was born in a cottage in Kirriemuir on May 9, 1860, the ninth child of a handloom weaver. 2010 is the 150th anniversary of his birth, and 'The Wee Red Toon' is bracing itself for a great deal of attention this year.
Barrie's early years were spent happily playing with his siblings in the cottage garden, exploring the streets near the family home, or sitting by the fire, listening to his mother's tales of Kirriemuir and the nearby glens. Then, when Barrie was six years old, his older brother David died following a skating accident.
David had been his mother's favourite son and she was utterly devastated. In a desperate attempt to heal his mother's broken heart, Barrie would tiptoe into his mother's bedroom, dressed in his brother's clothes and whistle in exactly the same way David had whistled.
Slowly, Barrie's mother, Margaret, began to recover from the tragedy and she found comfort in the fact that her beloved son would never grow old. Gradually, Margaret turned her attentions to her other children and soon realised that her second youngest child was a natural storyteller.
Encouraged by his mother, Barrie would often turn his stories into plays. These plays would then be performed in the tiny wash house opposite the cottage - the very first Wendy House.
When Barrie's father found a new job as chief clerk in Kirriemuir's Gaerie Works, the family left the cottage and, after a brief spell in Forfar, moved to Strathview, a large house overlooking the linen factory. The family were no longer humble weavers and, when he left school, Barrie went to Edinburgh University. After graduating, Barrie found a job as a journalist in London but he returned home to Kirriemuir as often as possible.
Kirriemuir provided Barrie with the inspiration for the stories which first brought him fame and fortune. One of his books, 'A Window in Thrums', featured a weaver's wife who would gaze from the window of her cottage in the hope of catching sight of her son coming home from London - although she was only too aware that he would never take the place of her first born son, who had died tragically.
In 1904, Peter Pan was performed for the very first time. Barrie's tale of the boy who refused to grow up, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell and the Wendy House (which was based on Barrie's first theatre - the wash house) was an astounding success and, only two years later, had grossed over £2 million. Barrie was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day!
Barrie's success as a playwright was guaranteed and he was only too happy to share his good fortune with the people of the town where he grew up and where he was still a frequent visitor. As a boy, Barrie would often climb up Kirrie Hill to watch the cricket matches that were played on the plateau on the top of the hill and in 1930, Barrie gifted the town with a specially-designed cricket pavilion. The cricket pavilion also housed a Camera Obscura, which to this day still provides the most amazing views right across Angus.
Barrie died of pneumonia in London in 1937. As a baronet, his funeral service could have taken place at Westminster Abbey but instead it was held at St Mary's Episcopal Church in Kirriemuir. At his request, Barrie was buried in the family burial plot in Kirriemuir Cemetery and his name was simply added below the names of those who had gone before him.
However, the town of Kirriemuir refused to let Barrie slip into anonymity. Today, it is possible to visit Barrie's Birthplace and the Camera Obscura, which are in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, and Barrie's grave - and to walk by the Window in Thrums and Strathview. And, in the town centre, a statue of Peter Pan watches over proceedings, a fitting reminder of JM Barrie's wonderful legacy to the world.