Barrie’s Birthplace – and an intriguing ghostly visitor

At Barrie’s Birthplace a strange visitor said she knew the playwright J.M.Barrie and had always wanted to see his home. Then she went upstairs and…read on…

Barrie’s Birthplace is really all about Peter Pan, one of the characters created by the Scottish playwright, J M Barrie.

The house where he was born is in Kirriemuir, a pleasant little red sandstone town in the old county of Angus.

The ordinary dwelling where Sir James Barrie grew up, long before he found literary fame and became a benefactor to the town, is today in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

Barrie's Birthplace in Kirriemuir, Angus, now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland
Barrie’s Birthplace in Kirriemuir, Angus, now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland

I visited Barrie’s Birthplace a few years ago, while researching material for a guidebook. At the reception desk I fell into conversation with the National Trust for Scotland volunteer on duty that afternoon. She told me the following story about the house where the playwright was born.

One Day, in The House that was Barrie’s Birthplace

One of her colleagues was in charge, alone, one morning when an old lady came in. She was leaning heavily on a walking stick and seemed to have mobility issues.

Barrie’s birthplace; only photographed from the less salubrious angle.

That meant that Barrie’s Birthplace, with its small rooms and narrow stairs, was hardly ideal for a visit.

National Trust for Scotland (NTS) volunteers tend to be chatty and, sure enough, the visitor and the staff member were soon talking, especially as the house was empty of other visitors at that moment.

The NTS volunteer soon got the impression that her visitor was especially well informed about the life of JM Barrie even before her visit to the humble house of his childhood.

A friend of JM Barrie?

The old lady said she had long wanted to see where ‘Sir James’ was born. She implied that she had known several people in common with him. (Barrie moved in high literary circles with lots of famous friends.)

Altogether, she seemed to be most familiar with the playwright and his world and gave details about how Barrie’s later houses were furnished, in contrast to the simplicity of his birthplace.

The mysterious visitor goes upstairs…

She started to look around the ground floor rooms, her walking stick tapping along the boards. The house here is small: sometimes described as a ‘weaver’s cottage’, as his father had indeed been a weaver.

Staff at all times know where visitors are. The old lady soon finished her downstairs tour, smiled as she passed the volunteer’s desk, and slowly made her way upstairs.

The tap of a walking stick at Barrie’s Birthplace

The walking stick tapped on the floorboards of the rooms above. Then it was the end of the shift for the first volunteer and her colleague arrived to take over.

They exchanged pleasantries about how few visitors there had been that morning. The volunteer left for home.

But wait, the J M Barrie dates don’t add up…
Peter Pan statue in Kirriemuir
Kirriemuir – the Wee Red Toun – makes the most of its JM Barrie connections. In the centre of town is a statue of Peter Pan portrayed in mid-tootle.

Musing on the conversation she had had with the old visitor, it struck her that there was some kind of age discrepancy between what the old lady had said and the date of Barrie’s death – 1937.

If she had known the Barrie circle even as a young adult, then that would make her… well, very old. It was a little puzzling.

Anyway, the volunteer put it out of her head until, back at work in the house, she met the second volunteer the next day.

Next Day, At Barrie’s Birthplace

Casually she asked her: ‘What did you make of the old lady who said she knew Barrie?’

‘Who was that?’

‘The one with the walking stick – upstairs when you arrived.’

‘But the house was empty when I came on duty. Nobody came down the stairs.’

The second volunteer was adamant. Sure, she remembered visitors turning up later – but was certain that everyone who came down the little stairs she had greeted on arrival and had given them tickets.

Her desk was right by the stairs after all.

Furthermore, there was no other way out of the house – certainly not for an old lady who needed a stick to help her get around. The volunteer would have remembered.

Nonplussed by the outcome, both volunteers actually searched the house thoroughly but of course found nothing.

Where did the old lady go..?

So it seems that in an old house in Kirriemuir, an NTS volunteer had an encounter with an old lady who seemed to belong to another era, and who disappeared while inside the playwright’s old dwelling.

And that was the story as I heard it from a colleague of the two volunteers. Who knows? Maybe J M Barrie’s old lady-friend will come visiting Barrie’s Birthplace again.

There are plenty of other allegedly haunted places in Scotland. Follow that link for a big selection to include in your, hmm, ghost-themed tour…maybe. 

More on the NTS site about Barrie’s Birthplace.