Pioneering Scot’s Leven cemetery headstone restored

James Wyllie's headstone in Leven.
James Wyllie's headstone in Leven.

A century-old memorial to a pioneering Scot has been restored after it was found broken and fallen.

The headstone at the grave of James Wyllie, who was world champion at the game of draughts for many years in the 19th century, has been cleaned and re-erected in Scoonie Cemetery.

Wyllie, nick-named The Herd Laddie, is a legend among draughts players.

Joe McDaniel, a visitor from America, was dismayed to find the memorial lying flat on the ground when he went there in October 2017 during a tour of Scotland. Alerted by Mr McDaniel, the Scottish Draughts Association has now had the memorial restored.

Born on July 8, 1818, at Piershill cavalry barracks, Edinburgh, son of a Waterloo veteran, Wyllie was brought up at Kilmarnock after his father died on Army service in Ireland.

Young James took to the road as a packman, then made draughts his profession for life. Playing anybody who answered his challenge, he travelled throughout the British Isles, toured in the United States twice between 1873 and 1885, and toured New Zealand and Australia 1887-91.

He was world champion from 1848 to 1894, except for two brief spells when he lost stake matches. He was populariser, publicist, and teacher. He did not hide new moves he had found, and published his play.

His home was at Leven for many years and after his death in Glasgow in April 1899, he was buried in his family plot at his request.

His wife, daughter Helen, and son-in-law are also interred there.

Christopher Reekie, a draughts enthusiast, said: “The inscription places on record the amazing length of time that Wyllie was world champion. He and other outstanding players put Scotland on the map in draughts.

“The Scottish contribution to draughts is not widely recognised among the public, but there is extensive literature on those times in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.”

Donald Oliphant, secretary of the SDA, said: “I am delighted that the memorial is up again. Wyllie is remembered and admired by draughts players everywhere.”