Laureate of the Nursery
An excerpt from Dennistoun Past and Present by James Baird published in 1922.
There lived in a house at no 4 Ark Lane (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 for the benefit of those not conversant with it - viz:
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'.
Alexander Anderson ('Surfaceman') wrote these appreciative lines on William Miller, viz :
He only sang of house and hearth,
No higher pinion has his song,
His voice was blent with childhood's mirth,
When nights were dim and rich and long;
Yet what a rare reward and sweet,
Is his for by his lowly art,
The sound of 'Willie Winkie's' feet,
Is heard in every mother's heart.
Robert Buchanan, the novelist, has said that 'wherever Scottish foot has trod, wherever Scottish child has been born, the songs of William Miller have been sung. I can scarcely conceive a period when William Miller will be forgotten; certainly not until the Doric Scotch is obliterated.' Another writer says truly that it is not so much in his touches of tenderness as in his dramatic appreciation of the life of the nursery that William Miller excels.
William Miller's widow continued to live at no 4 Ark Lane a number of years after his death, and was known as 'Cat Jean' as she was a great lover of cats. She gathered all the stray and homeless cats into her home - sometimes to the number of a dozen - and took an interest in looking after her dumb charges.