Story of Memorial to David Livingstone – 4 The Beginning

Continuing the detailed story of how the David Livingstone Centre was transformed from run down slum in the 1920s to a National museum that Scotland could be proud of. I’ve transcribed this text from the 1940s which today explores taking ownership of the park grounds:

“The transfer to our Trust of the property was formally completed on Whitsunday 1927. The price paid was £1,285 and the extent of the grounds was 9.885 acres.” (Thats about £80k in 2020 money)

“Whilst the negotiations were in progress an unfortunate incident occurred that at the time appeared a minor disaster. Part of the ground that we were buying had been for over a hundred years a garden and was full of well grown hardwood trees. It was a very beautiful spot, but when on a grey afternoon towards the end of 1926, I climbed the hill from the river and looked towards the Lodge and its park, it was to view a scene of desolation that resembled a battlefield. Most of the fine old trees were down , and those that remained except a few soft woods had been cruelly lopped and it seemed at the time absolutely ruined. The first impression was that our grand scheme had been hopelessly spoiled.

The story was soon told. The miners of the adjoining pit, then on strike had had a quarrel with William Baird & Co. Permission had been given to them, through the long months of struggle to use an inferior coal from the pithead called ‘gum’. The firm found reason to believe that the privilege was being abused and had withdrawn it. Whereupon the workers , few of whom were Blantyre man, believing that the property belonged to Baird, as technically it still did, marched down, three hundred strong with axes and hack saws, cutting down the plantation to pieces, and carried away the wood for burning.

It was a sight fit for tears, but again in the final event evil turned to good. The land had been actually improved for our purposes as a playing field. The miners had cleared away for us many noble trees that we should never have had the heart to cut and those that had been lopped have by now recovered, much of their beauty.

It was this incident that suggested to us the first step, a very happy one, that marked the start of our active plans and gave them wide publicity.

In order to make good, as far as might be, the damage done to the trees an “Arbour Day” was carried through with the help of the Day and Sunday Schools of Blantyre and district. It was in charge of the Rev, W. H. Macdirarmid, then the minister of the Parish and of a committee. All local schools, including Roman Catholic, took part. Each class planted a tree that had a label attached. The day was successful in every way. In a district where senseless destruction of growing things is all too common, not a tree was planted has been molested since, and practically all have thriven.

The next task was to put the grounds into order. It was early decided to demolish the Lodge. It was not suited to become a museum, was in bad repair and its site was needed in the playing field. The the high wall that separated the Lodge from the Shuttle Row, as the Livingstone Buildings were called, a wall that David must often have sinned up and ‘dreeped’ was lowered and the old communal ‘doocot’ and wash house, that had become dilapidated was removed to make room for the bastion-shaped steps that now lead up from the courtyard to the playing fields.

For those who have not visited the place, it is perhaps necessary to say a word about the unspoiled natural beauty of the grounds, a beauty which remains unaffected by the mills and mines of the district. The Statistical Report of 1845 said of the spot, “the whole scenery breathes an atmosphere of silence and repose.” It does so still.

The old house stands up clear above a fine bend of the rapidly flowing river Clyde. Beyond are the lovely Bothwell woods, and on the banks below is some of the finest timber in Scotland. Our open fields stretch in a fine sweep towards a pinewood plantation, part of our property, that lies on the lower side.

Some of the fine trees which were cut is shown in this old photo, which as you’ll see looks very different from today.

1926 Shuttle Row before renovation

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