The Blantyre Priory Carvings

The Blantyre carvings are a series of iconic stone carvings, based on a religious theme, on a cliff face overlooking the River Clyde, below the site of the former Blantyre Priory, and across the river from the remains of Bothwell Castle.

Over the years, a number of assorted stories and myths have been presented regarding their origin, some even claiming they were carved by monks during medieval times (Middle Ages c. 5th to 15th century), possibly associated with Blantyre Priory (1239 – 1598), however they are actually more modern creations of the mid-20th century! This story aims to dispel any rumours of these carvings being of old and of course recognise the great work put in by a talented man of the modern era. Had these carvings existed in ancient times, they would surely have a much more important significance now, rather than being tucked away from current sight.

Reference to the carvings is also said to have been reported in the Blantyre Gazette (date unknown), where a pair of articles referred to the subject. In the first, the sandstone carvings were said to have been made in the late 1950s or early 1960s, however it seems there was also an inference that they may have been of medieval origin. A second article follow-up on the story, and confirmed their more recent creation, and noted that what appeared to be natural erosion of the carvings was in reality damage caused by local vandals.

The carvings are described as depicting three Stations of the Cross: 2. Jesus is given his cross; 11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross; 14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense. Smaller carvings around the foot of the cross represent Mary, his mother; Mary Magdalene, a devoted Disciple; some of the Apostles, and a Roman centurion.

There have also been references to further carvings nearby, with one depicting the head of David Livingstone, however I have never been able to confirm their existence during visiting to the area, and it would appear these have been lost to combined of the weather, erosion, and local vandalism.

Ms Alice Hawkins graciously provided confirmation regarding the sculptor, who was her uncle.

1950s tommy hawkinsThe carving were produced by a local Blantyre man, Tommy Hawkins, beginning in the mid-1950s (probably 1956), and were still being worked on into the early 1960s. Here is a photo of Tommy working on Blantyre’s carvings.

Alice is the daughter of Bud Hawkins, or Andrew, who is sometimes identified as the sculptor, but we are assured that his talents lay with singing, and he was never involved with the carvings.

Tommy Hawkins has been described as both a very artistic and a very shy person. He only worked on the carvings late at night or early in the morning, assisted only by a small miner’s lamp, powered by acetylene or carbide. If anyone disturbed while he was working, with only a small wooden mallet and chisel, he would just walk away and not say anything about what he was doing.

His desire to avoid publicity was not to last, as it seems the local papers learned of his work, and ran a story about the carvings. As a result, he earned a commission from the Queen, and was presented with a set of chisels for his work.

We are fortunate to have seen a series black & white photographs taken during an early survey of the carvings, and these show the work in sharp relief, in contrast to the later photographs, taken in 2006, which show extreme weathering and erosion over a relatively short period of only 50 years or so. Sadly, the people who took the original B&W survey pictures are no longer with us, having passed away during the 1990s, when they would have been well into their eighties.

Scanned from an original black & white photograph taken during the early survey, the detail visible on the face of the figure bearing the cross can easily be seen in sharp relief.

Compare this with the later image below, recorded in 2006, showing that most of the sharp detail has been lost. This deterioration is consistent over all the carvings, as opposed to the areas which have been damaged as a result of vandalism). This suggests that while the softness of the local sandstone may be one reasons why the carvings exist at all, it also means sadly, they will not survive for any appreciable time. These are documented here in recent photos below by Alex Rochead to be preserved at least in picture format. If the sandstone is as soft as the geologists believe, these carvings may not exist in another 50 years time.

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