Visiting Shuttle Row, 1913 (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from Part 2 yesterday…

In 1913, the Rev Thomas Hannan, visited Shuttle Row to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Livingstone’s birth. He left a brilliant description of life in and around Shuttle Row at a time when it was still homes, some 16 years before it became a museum. Pictured in 1913, that very year is Shuttle Row, putting his words exactly into context and most likely what he was looking at that very year. Grab a coffee…some good reading. Enjoy.

“Then I went towards on to the central feature of the locality—the house. I saw a three storeyed tenement with two round towers containing stairs. Beside this tenement is a range of two-storeyed houses with outside stairs, continuing the line. The more distant tower stair is that which focusses my interest, for that is the stair by which the house is reached. The buildings are of brick, harled and whitewashed. At least they were harled; but the harling is off as high as the energetic children of the tenement can reach to pull off and the general impression is NOT white.

At the gable end is a plate recording the fact that Livingstone was born there. There is a village pump in front, and a woman was drawing water from it when I looked. Another woman was boiling a large pan of water on the open ground on a fireplace made of bricks, picnic style—but she was not having a picnic. Perhaps she was washing. Certainly the children wanted what was in it.

The entrance to the stair was not inviting, but it was quite clean within, and I am inclined to think the dirtiness of the children whom I saw was due to the prevalence of mud and the lack of pavement. I ascended the stair to the top floor, and entered a rather long passage on my left. On the middle door on the right of the passage is a brass nameplate with the inscription, as far as I remember, “Mrs. Gilbert- Livingstone’s House.”

It small room. A one room menage. The window faces out over the river, that is to the east. The north and west sides are fixed-in beds, that is, in recesses while the south side is the fireplace, occupied by a “ribbed” grate, a grate of bars built in with bricks on each side, the bricks covered with plaster.

The whole air of the little house is clean and cosy, while it is very nicely furnished, and Mrs. Gilbert, who is a genuine tenant, paying a rent, feels great pride in the associations of the house. She has portraits of Dr. Livingstone hanging on the wall, and attaches a special value to the piece of wood of the Livingstone ‘Name Tree’, the tree in Africa near Lake Tanganyika which Livingstone cut his name.

She keeps a visitors’ book, in which my name appears nine thousand and something. Many Americans visit the house, and they often want to buy the piece of the name-tree. But it is not for sale. On comparing the interior as it is now with that shown in print of the year 1874, I find that the general features are the same, the differences are merely in the furnishing.

I went round afterwards to the back the house, which presents an elevation of three storeys. The house looks better from that side than from the front. It was a fairly windy day, and the back presented a characteristic scene of clothes drying on lines. As look up, I see that the Livingstone window is the second from the right on the top floor. But the question remains – is that REALLY the house in which Livingstone was born!?

There is doubt that the house described, is on the site where David Livingstone was born. The local tradition and the family belief differ as the result of a fire which took place in the house in the tenement many years ago. ‘About forty years ago’ [1873 or 1874] was the period stated in the locality.

The old print the mill, alluded to already, is a print the year 1874. It was probably not original then, as I have seen the same picture in undated publication also. In that picture the house as it appears is above the mill on account of its much higher level presents exactly the same appearance as now.

If that picture dates from before the fire, it makes it clear that the house is really the same. But members of the family went into the matter carefully and they have come to the conclusion that the fire was more serious than tradition asserts. Local tradition maintains that only the floor of the house was burned, with perhaps some the internal woodwork, and that therefore the interior practically as it was when David Livingstone was born in it. If the small picture of the interior which I know, and of which I have a photographic copy, is a previous to the burning, then the room is internally is practically in its original condition. But I only know that the print is of the year 1874 and it may be from a drawing done specially for the print, and therefore only representing the year 1874, while not know the date of the fire. The members of the family who went into the question asserted that the house was destroyed in the fire and that the present house is a successor.

Another interesting question is the extent to which the house is identilied with the early life of David and the Livingstone family. The house is declared not to have been that of Neil Livingstone, David’s father, but Neil’s wife’s father. Neil married Agnes Hunter, daughter a a man who had at one time been in comfortable circumstances in Airdrie. He became reduced through amiability in helping his neighbours, and latterly lived in a humble way in Blantyre. When Neil Livingstone married, he was employed in the Barrowfield Mills, Glasgow, and lived there But, so asserts a local tradition, before the birth of David, that Mrs. Neil Livingstone went to her father’s house, so that David was born the house of his grandfather, David Hunter after whom he received his Christian name.

Thence he went, in due course to his proper home, which was soon transferred from Glasgow to Blantyre, to the cottage which has disappeared completely. In spite of the doubt regarding the full identity of the traditional house with the original, in spite of the probable very short connection of David with the original, and because it stands at any rate on the site, the pilgrimages will continue to the scene of the beginning of a beautiful life; and the little room, whether it be same interior or not, represents the surroundings under which the air of heaven was first breathed by one member the aristocracy which God creates.”

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