Story of the Memorial to David Livingstone – Preface

The following extract is from 1943 or 44 taken from a little booklet about the story of the David Livingstone Centre. The whole extract formed the Preface of the booklet, which we’ll be exploring here over the next couple of weeks to celebrate the imminent re-opening of the museum.

“Many people have expressed the wish that some record should be made available of the steps that led to the restoration of David Livingstone’s birthplace at Blantyre and its transformation from a dilapidated slum into a shrine not unworthy of the memory of the great Missionary Explorer.

Fifteen years have passed since the opening of the Memorial. It is now firmly established in the regard of Scottish people is becoming increasingly known to the wider world. It’s popularity, which has exceeded the most sanguine hopes of its promoters, shows, if proof were needed, the remarkable hold that more than seventy years after his death, Livingstone still has upon the imagination and affection of the Scottish people.”

It was soon found that the humblest and the highest of the land could be approached with equal confidence in his name and that every help that could be , would be gladly given. Very rarely, indeed were we disappointed. No memorial has a better claim to the title ‘National’. No sooner were proposals for restoration formulated than they received the enthusiastic co-operation of large numbers of people and, once launched, the appeal became inevitably a national effort.

Looking back on these first days one is struck as the story will show, with the meagreness of our early plans as compared with the greatness of the final achievement and one is impelled to seek an explanation.

Without question, the main reason lies in the extraordinarily dynamic character of Livingstone’s personality. In life, everything he touched became somehow vital, and this force still persists. Certainly it seemed to make itself felt in the development of every part of the scheme. But the writer would be unfaithful to a deep conviction if he did not record his belief that through all our planning we were providentially guided. So frequently apparat coincidence, or something completely unexpected, led us by ways unthought of into lines that proved most fruitful. Time and again our heaviest disappointments, and these were not few, were turned into our chief gains. The record of some of these ‘guidances’ may be the justification for the printing of this booklet.

From the outset the committee had the warm support of the late Mrs Livingstone Wilson, the explorer’s youngest daughter and of her family. Tribute must also be paid to the late Very Rev. Dr Donald Fraser. Too busy himself to give much time to the movement, his enthusiasm and contagious optimism often helped us in difficult times.

But to one person especially grateful acknowledgement must be paid to our Architect, Sir F.C. Mears F.R.I.B.A. L.L.D (Edin) President of the Royal Scottish Academy. It was he who conceived the general scheme and brought to it vision and imagination. The comprehensiveness and artistic motive of the completed plan are largely due to him and to his colleague, Mr. C.d’O Pilkington Jackson, the Sculptor and Mr. A.E.Haswell Miller, R.S.W, the Painter. Nor should we forget our Builder, the late Mr Andrew Wright and the other contractors who worked with him, all men of Blantyre or the neighbourhood. They carried out the work of restoration as those charged with a sacred trust.”

Pictured is the back of Shuttle Row in the 1940s.

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