Story of the Memorial to David Livingstone – 1 A Humble Start

Continuing the story of how Shuttle Row was transformed into a museum in the 1920s. Transcribed from the 1940s as follows:

“The buildings that now form the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone were, with many others, erected about 1785 to house the employees of the Blantyre Cotton Spinning Works, one of the first experiments in Scotland of the Industrial Age.

The business was founded by David Dale, a well known citizen of Glasgow. Later it passed into the charge of Henry Monteith & Company who were the owners in Livingstone’s day. After many vicissitudes the firm went into liquidation in 1904, and the houses were allowed to fall into disrepair. In 1913, they were condemned for human habitation, but because of the War and the subsequent housing shortage, it was not until 1925 that the Local Authorities began systematically to remove the surrounding tenements, all of which had become slums.

When in November that year, in company with the local Congregational minister, the Rev.D.N. Thomson, I visited the Livingstone buildings, we were shocked beyond measure by the filthy condition of the place. Much was too ruinous for occupation; the rest, a slum, houses the type of tenant it deserved.

Happily, the little birthroom was cared for by an old woman who kept it reasonably tidy and gathered a small income from occasional visitors. But the general surroundings were so disreputable that no Scotsman could take an overseas person there, without an acute sense of shame. The adjoining buildings were in the process of demolition and it was clear that within a few months, the Livingstone house would also be destroyed. We felt sure that if this melancholy prospect were made known, the Scottish people would not permit such desecration.

The old place had, as slums often do have, a certain picturesqueness, and close adjoining there was a beautiful little park, full of fine trees, in the middle of which stood a large house where the manager of the works had lived.

Mr Thomson’s suggestion was that an effort should be made to acquire the whole property to restore the Birthplace building and make it a centre of pilgrimage, reserving the old garden as a playing field for Sunday School and similar excursions. It is this idea, worked out with imagination, that had led to the striking success of our scheme.

There was no time to lose, and no time was lost. We learned that the ground landlords were Messrs William Baird & Co, the Coal owners; and without delay, on the introduction of Councillor John George, who became one of our original governors, we interviewed at the pithead of the adjoining colliery their manager, Mr Jarvis. He met us most heartily and gladly gave us, subject to one unexpected qualification, what we wanted – a six month’s option on the ground. The qualification was this. Some months previously a similar request had been made to him by Mr Gillanders and though nothing more had been heard of the matter, Mr. Jarvis did not feel free to grant our request without his consent, and suggested that we should consult his solicitor and ask him to join us. This we did, and Mr. Gillanders agreed. It was thus that we made contact with his lawyer, the late Mr R. Wodrow Anderson, who for four years acted as our Hon. Secretary and helped us in many ways.

At the time, our ideas as to the shape our Memorial should take were undefined, and our first step was to adopt Mr Gillander’s plan which involved the reconstruction of the houses, the setting aside of a few rooms for the exhibition of Livingstone relics, and the transforming of the rest of the homes for elderly pensioners – the ‘godly poor’, the ‘order’ to which, it will be remembered, Livingstone proudly claimed to belong. Bit by bit, however, our ideas expanded.

Messrs William Baird & Co proved helpful. They offered us the whole property, including the buildings, at the reduced rate i.e £130 an acre and gave us a substantial subscription. There were then three blocks. First the three storied tenement containing 24 ‘single ends’ small rooms of 10 x 14 feet. The Birthroom is one of four of these that make up the top flat. Adjoining was a somewhat more commodious two storied building. but except for the roof, in quite ruinous condition. The third building, the ‘Lodge’ stood in the middle of the park and might be described as a small mansion – a house of rather pretentious structure, also in a very poor state of repair. But the squalor of the whole was redeemed by the attraction of the park and the exceeding beauty of the immediate surroundings.”

Leave a Reply