Visiting Shuttle Row, 1913 (Part 1 of 3)

At the end of March 1913, the Rev Thomas Hannan visited Blantyre intent on seeing the place Explorer David Livingstone was born at. Writing in the “Outlook” Magazine, the minister gave a great account of visiting the Village and Shuttle Row, now transcribed here. What follows is a great read, describing life and the location in some good detail. You’ve got to keep in mind, when he visited to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Livingstone’s birth, this was a good full year before the outbreak of WW1 and Shuttle Row consisted of many dilapidated homes, long before any thought of turning it into a museum existed. I’m telling this story over 3 parts. Enjoy!

“The centenary of the birth David Livingstone draws attention to the great work which he did in Central Africa the pioneer Christian missions end European civilisation. It draws attention to the wonderful personality of the man, who prepared himself for great and self-denying work by his own independent efforts.

His story of progress from being a piecer in cotton mill is a lesson to what is possible from small beginnings; it may also be regarded as suggesting that there must still be most valuable material going to waste for want of the opportunity of right direction.

A visit to the birthplace of the great missionary traveller enables one to realise his force of character and to picture this possibility of present waste. Such a visit I made only a short time ago. I stood within the house where he is said to have been born in the village of Blantyre, on the River Clyde, a few miles from Glasgow.

The only element of doubt in the matter is to whether the house completely burnt at one time or whether only some of the interior woodwork was destroyed. There is very little of local tradition about Livingstone in the district, chiefly because it has long ceased to be a cotton-spinning locality and coal-mining has introduced a different population and has marred the natural beauty of the district.

It is easy to reach Blantyre either from Edinburgh of Glasgow. The traveller may go direct or he may go to Bothwell, made famous by its castle, which is only distant a short walk from Blantyre. But it is necessary to discriminate between Blantyre and High Blantyre, which both have stations. Arriving at Blantyre Railway Station, the traveller is within a very short distance of the “village”, which is the actual birthplace of David Livingstone.

In its day, when it was inhabited by the old country folk and mill hands, before coal mining, had fouled the air and landscape with its hills of waste material, it must have been a beautiful spot. The banks the Clyde stand high there, and the village was protected by it on the east. On the south were gardens, on the west were woods, and on the north were the mills, the property of Monteith and Company, and first bought by James Monteith from a previous owner.

The village was entered from the south by gates and the gate-houses remain at the present day. But the gates were removed about fifteen years ago [1898], and now stand in the grounds of Calderwood Castle not far away. The gate-posts have ceased to exist, but the occupant of one of the gate houses came upon the foundation of one recently when digging his garden. The modern pilgrim will pass between these gate-houses as he walks from the station to the village. He will not have gone very far before he comes to the site of the house which David Livingstone was brought up; but there is no question about the fact that that house does not now exist.

There were in the old days, two rows of cottages parallel with each other, such as one often seen in the country. The row nearest the road has gone, with the exception of one house, a small tenement with outside stair, of which it said locally that it is similar to that which David Livingstone lived. (I believe he is describing the The Wages House).

But I have a small print of the house in which the traveller was reared, and it does not look like this. The picture, which was published in 1874 probably from something older, shows a one-storeyed cottage with slated roof, a hedge and gateposts at the front, a large tree at one end, and evidently similar cottages on either side. Doubtless these little cottages, bright, trim, and cheerful in their day became ruinous and insanitary, and they went their way. The dingy row which remains is in great contrast, and may well later date and inferior in style.

Pictured from the Annals of Blantyre book is the likely graphic the Rev is describing, though I believe this is a back view of Shuttle Row at the time and therefore still correctly describes Livingstone’s birthplace.

Continued on Part 2

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