Walter Wingate was born on 15 April 1865, in Dalry in Ayrshire, the fourth son of David Wingate, who himself was known as ‘The Collier Poet’, having achieved some local fame for his own poems and songs. While Walter was still an infant, the family removed to Lanarkshire, where he remained for the rest of his life.
He attended Hutcheson’s Grammar School in Hamilton and, at the age of 16, went to Glasgow University from where he graduated with honours in mathematics before the age of 20. He was keen to work for the Indian Civil Service, but though passing all the academic tests, failed the physical requirements due to poor eyesight.
Countering this disappointment, he turned to teaching, obtaining an appointment in St. John’s Grammar School in Hamilton as mathematics master, a position he continued to occupy until his untimely death at the age of 52. Many years later a memorial fund was inaugurated by the Hamilton Civic Society, and a framed picture of the poet was given to the school in 1932.
During his life Wingate contributed poems to the Glasgow Herald and Evening News, to magazines, and to the anthologies of the Glasgow Ballad Club, but never had a book of his own published.
In his editor’s note in the collection put together after Wingate’s death, (Poems, published by Gowans and Gray in 1919) Adam Gowans speculates that many of the poems ‘will become familiar and dear to his countrymen.’ Certainly the Scots pieces have: ‘The Sair Finger’ remains a popular recitation piece, along with ‘The Dominie’s Happy Lot’ and ‘Conscience’.
A contemporary reviewer in The Scotsman was of the opinion that ‘the Scots verses are racier and more humorous in expression’, while praising the tender meditations on nature in both languages. Wingate’s talent for capturing wayside flowers and their habitat in watercolours was equalled by his ability to paint in words the countryside he so loved to wander.
In 1907, Walter had married Agnes Thom, who predeceased him by two years; her sudden death affected him profoundly and may have hastened his own death in 1918. Their two sons were subsequently raised by relatives, including Walter Buchanan, also a member of The Glasgow Ballad Club, who contributed the preface to Wingate’s posthumous collection.