Shuttle Row Foresight

On 17th January 1913, a reader of the Scotsman Newspaper came up with a good idea. Why not buy the dilapidated birthplace house of David Livingstone at Shuttle Row and turn it into a museum about the great Explorer!

It was a fanciful idea but one that planted the seed of such a wonderful idea, a full 16 years before the reality of the museum actually opened. The man, identified only as ‘N Obliviscaris’ wrote, ” In view of the approaching centenary celebrations of the birth of David Livingstone in March , will you grant me the publicity of your columns in order that I may make a suggestion in regard to a matter which urgently concerns all of us who are proud to remember that Livingstone was a Scotsman? I refer to the preservation and proper custody of the house at Blantyre where David Livingstone was born. “

“In the United Free Church Missionary Record of October 1912 , there appeared an interesting article upon this subject , with the suggestive title, “Livingstone’s Birthplace in peril of being Demolished: A Suggestion that it should be Preserved. ” As the writer of that article apparently speaks from first-hand knowledge , I shall simply quote his words, “It is necessary,” he says, “to call attention to the matter [ i.e the preservation of the Livingstone Birth housej at the present moment, as there is a grave danger that the house may soon be swept out of existence.”

The range of buildings of which it forms a part, called Shuttle Row, has, we understand, been condemned as insanitary, and it is practically certain that if modern requirements are not complied with, the historic spot will be demolished. This would be an irreparable misfortune , and there is surely sufficient worldwide interest in the achievements of the great missionary and explorer to prevent it. ”

The writer, in describing, a visit paid to the humble room where the Livingstone family was reared, alludes to the courteous and kindly reception given to him by its present tenant , and adds;— ” Although Mrs Gilbert’s room is visited by people from every quarter of the globe , it is not a public show place , and it is only by her goodwill that they are admitted—a fact of which many would , by their behaviour , appear to be unaware of.

These facts speak for themselves . I venture to submit, then, that the preservation and custody of this precious birthplace and relic of a hero ought to be made one of the prime objects to be secured by our centenary celebrations. In a circular already issued, I believe, to all the ministers in Scotland by a large and influential committee , the recommendation has been made that Sunday , March 16th , should be observed as ” Livingstone Sunday” and that ” sermons be preached in all churches , and addresses be delivered in all Sunday schools.”

“The further suggestion is also made that on Wednesday , 19th March , there be held in one of the churches a united memorial service, and in the evening a public demonstration in some suitable place. While the carrying out of the latter suggestion may seem neither feasible nor necessary in many of our villages and smaller towns , the former part of the scheme will no doubt be universally acted upon. The present writer’s suggestion is this; Might not such services or meetings be made the occasion of a collection for a fund to be expended on ( a ) the erection of a statue of David Livingstone at Blantyre ; ( b ) the purchase of his birthhouse , and its transformation into a museum of Livingstone relics ; ( c ) the creation of an endowment for the upkeep of the house and the maintenance of a caretaker (e.g ., as has been done in the case of the Carlyle houses at Ecclefecchan and Cheyne Row.) The balance if there be any balance after these ends have been secured, might be applied to Christian missions in the Dark Continent, for the Christianisation of which Livingstone gave himself in life and death. Every Scotsman, and every Scotswoman will, I’m sure, feel honoured in being asked to help this cause , N Obliviscaris”

[Source: Scotsman 20th January 1913]. Shuttle Row is pictured in the 1940s.

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