Things are changing in Blantyre with the imminent re-opening of Shuttle Row Museum rebranded now as David Livingstone Birthplace. Over the next couple of weeks, to celebrate the re-opening I’ll be telling the story in detail of how the Museum came about, charting its successes and struggles, archiving in writing how it looked and what artefacts were there and taking the narrative right up to current events. Hope you find these articles interesting and with Shuttle Row being one of Blantyre’s most important buildings, a good record for you and future generations to read.
In the 1940’s, a small booklet was published which serves well to explain the early events around the centre. The Reverend John White wrote,
“David Livingstone, Explorer, Missionary, Liberator left a name behind him that his praises might be reported. The Lord wrought great glory by him in Africa. He was honoured in his generation and the name liveth for evermore. This booklet records how in these latter dates the Scottish National Memorial – a shrine of wondrous completeness and beauty – was erected in his native village at Blantyre.
There is an omission in ‘The Story of the Scottish National Memorial’ and it is my duty to fill in the blank. The Rev James I. Macnair was the initiator and inspiring force from the inception of the movement until the Memorial Shrine was opened in 1929 by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, our beloved Queen.
I have in my possession a letter from Mr. Macnair written to me 21 years ago (Early 1920s) and enclosing a draft of his suggestions and from this I quote:- “You may know that the birthplace of David Livingstone near Blantyre is now a dilapidated tenement in a slum area. That it should be allowed to remain so is not to our National Credit…..I have taken this matter up because someone must take the initiative, and as it happens that I am this year the President of the Congregational Union of Scotland – The Church in which Livingstone was born- and also Missionary of the London Missionary Society – the Society that sent him out – it seemed fitting that i should take the first step; but Livingstone is a national figure and a movement like this should be national….”
All of us who had the privilege of working with Mr. Macnair realised that to him is due the main credit for the erection of ‘the finest shrine in the world’. Our appreciation is recorded on a Tablet unveiled at the Memorial on 28th July , 1943 and which bears this inscription: – ‘The Rev James I. Macnair, to whose vision and leadership this Livingstone Memorial largely owes it foundation.” In this brochure as in his volume on ‘Livingstone the Liberator’, Mr Macnair has placed all of us under a deep debt to him.”
Pictured around 1906 is Shuttle Row and its easy to see why this was considered then , as a slum. This was a place which needed saving.