Sunday, 16 October 2011

William Miller (1810 - 1872), Author of 'Wee Willie Winkie'

William Miller was born in Glasgow c1810, son of Stephen Miller and Margaret Roy.

Very little is known about his early life although various publications state that he intended to become a doctor/surgeon but due to ill-health, his ambitions never came to fruition.

In the 1841 Scotland Census, he is listed age 30 as living at Glasgow -
East Russell Street
(district of St. James),
 with his wife Isabella and infant son Stephen.
His occupation is listed as ‘Turner’ and wife Isabella’s as Cotton Winder.

Isabella’s maiden surname was Mackay and it appears that quite a few members of the Mackay and Sutherland Families were also living at the same address, or perhaps if not exactly the same address, certainly must have been ‘next-door’ as they all appear listed together on the same Census Page.
(No relationships are listed on the 1841 Census.)

1841/42 saw the first publication of ‘Wee Willie Winkie’
within ‘Whistle-binkie: Stories for the Fireside’.

By 1851, William appears in the Census as age 40 years old, a Wood Sawyer
living at 139 High Street (district of St. Paul), Glasgow.
The Head of the Household (from a transcription) is Sarah ‘McCroy’, age 56 from Inverness.
William and Isabella are listed as Sarah’s nephew and neice, so possibly ‘McCroy’ is a mistranscription of Mackay and is part of the same family all listed together in East Russell Street 10 years previous?
Son Stephen, listed as 13 years old, an apprentice Wood Turner appears to be living with his 68 year old grandmother Sarah Mackay at 103 Graeme Sreet, Glasgow.
Once again, various members of the Mackay Sutherland Families are all living together

If the numbering on High Street has remained consistent, number 139 is just south of the junction
of Ingram Street and High Street.
This area has now mostly been re-developed (as ‘Merchant City’), but a few of the tenements still exist.

The ‘Virtual Mitchell’ has a collection of photographs of High Street ,
Stevenson Street which was originally East Russell Street and  Renfield Street

The 1861 Census shows William, wife Isabella and son Stephen living at 19 Salamanca Street
(Salamanca Streetwas in the Parkhead district of Glasgow, but no longer exists)

Head of Household: William Miller, age 50, Wood Turner
Wife Isabella, age 45
Son Stephen, age 23, Wood Engraver employing 2 apprentices.

Unfortunately, William & Isabella are proving more difficult to find in 1871 than their son Stephen
who had married and was living at 52 Renfield Sreet, Glasgow.

(52 Renfield Street is/was at the junction with West Regent Street
and is now ‘under’ the Odeon Cinema)

The 1871 Census has the following:
Head of Household: Stephen Miller, age 33, Wood Engraver employing 7 men
Wife: Isabella age 33
Daughters: Elizabeth age 5, Isabella Mackay age 3 and Jessie Cousins Miller age 1
(The family appears to have around a dozen servants)

William Miller son of Stephen Miller, Master Coppersmith and Margaret Roy
Died on the 20th August 1872 aged 62 years at 21 Windsor Street
(district of Milton), Glasgow.
The registration of his death shows the cause was Spinal Paralysis and Bed Sores.
He is shown as ‘married’ to Isabella Mackay, so presumably Isabella was still alive at the time.
The informant of his death was his son Stephen.

William was buried in Tollcross Churchyard and according to popular opinion,
this was within the Family Lair although there has been speculation
that he was buried in a ‘Pauper’s Grave’ (Common Ground).

No stone exists in the Churchyard bearing the name of Miller.

The red arrow on the above aerial view marks the original entrance to the churchyard
and the tenements in the background line Tollcross Road.

Some years after William’s death, his memorial in the Glasgow Necropolis was erected
by friends and admirers and was funded by public subscription.

A bronze plaque was erected on a wall of Tennants Brewery
suggesting that William’s Family home was at
4 Ark Lane, in Dennistoun – the site on which the brewery had been built,
but unless this street was later re-named,
or he lived there prior to 1841 – no census return lists this address.

The memorial is located in Section 'Lambda'
and it's location is marked in the above aerial view of the Necropolis by the red arrow.

"Wee Willie Winkie rins through the toon,
Up stairs an' doon stairs in his nicht-gown,
Tirlin' 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 comin' ben?
The cat's singin grey thrums to the sleepin hen,
The dog's speldert on the floor and disna gie a cheep,
But here's a waukrife laddie, that wunna fa' asleep.

Onything but sleep, you rogue, glow'ring like the moon,
Rattling in an airn jug wi' an airn spoon,
Rumblin', tumblin' roon about, crawin' like a cock,
Skirlin like a kenna-what, waukenin' sleepin' fock.

Hey Willie Winkie, the wean's in a creel,
Wamblin' aff a bodie's knee like a verra eel,
Ruggin' at the cat's lug and raveling a' her thrums-
Hey Willie Winkie – see there he comes.

Wearit is the mither that has a stoorie wean,
A wee, stumpie, stousie, that canna rin his lane,
That has a battle aye wi' sleep afore he'll close an e'e-
But a kiss frae aff his rosy lips gies strength anew to me."

What happened to his widow Isabella remains a mystery …..

There is, however, an Isabella Miller of the correct age, place of birth, occupation etc., listed in the 1881 Census as an inmate of the City Parish Poor House, but this obviously may be sheer co-incidence.


  1. I came across this site as I was researching information on Stephen Miller. As William's father is listed as being a Master Coppersmith I believe he is the Stephen Miller of Stephen Miller & Co of Saracen St, Glasgow. His foundry is credited as being the first one in Scotland to make large turret bells of a quality that matched those imported from Holland or London. Stephen Miller was admitted as a Member of The Incorporation of Hammermen of Glasgow in 1795. I was researching him because one of his bells hangs in the tower of St Andrews Scots Kirk on the Caribbean Island of Grenada. The Kirk was built in 1831 and the bell was manufactured in 1833. The church was destroyed in a hurricane in 2004 but the Tower remained standing and is now in the process of restoration

    1. Hi John,

      I'm researching Daniel Miller who was a most prominent coppersmith in the British Isles at the end of the 19th century. I believe Daniel, born in 1825, was the son of Stephen and Isabella Miller, and is responsible for the design and construction of many of the great stills of the golden era of Irish Whiskey. Do you happen to do any research on Daniel? I'm looking to see if there's any way I can find any of his original still designs.

      I also believe that the Millers were one of the founders of the now mighty Abercrombie coppersmiths in Alloa on Scotland.

      With best regards,


  2. Thank you for leaving this really interesting information John - it's wonderful to hear that a Glaswegian Bell made it all the way to Grenada and is still, after all these years, being looked after.

    I wish you luck in your research.