A Final look at the story of how the National Memorial to David Livingstone was formed in 1929. An account in the 1940s, looks back at the events between the opening in 1929 and those wartime years.
“Though the museum and grounds were on the opening day complete enough to be attractive, and though the large numbers it drew in the first month were sufficient to make its fame widely known, it was very far from complete and many improvements have been and are still being made.
In our planning we had felt that if Livingstone had the shaping of his own memorial he would have wished that it should end with the emphasis not upon himself, but past him to the Master he so sacrificially served. Further, it was our hope at the same time to hint at somethings of that Christian loyalty which was the deep motive of his life. No part of our plan cost us half so much thought as this. How far we have succeeded must be for our visitors to judge.
Obviously the Cross was the only symbol that could carry our meaning, and so in our first plan we had represented, in a recess, a painted Celtic Cross of rich gold upon an ultramarine background. This was done by Mr. Campbell Mackie of the Glasgow School of Art. It was a very beautiful piece of work, impressive in itself, but we came to feel it was not in the keeping. It did not fit the puritan simplicity so characteristic of Livingstone’s religious thought. Moreover, the place where it was put, the only one then available, was where the crowd constantly passed. There was no quiet, no sense of a shrine, but for some years we had to be content with this symbolic suggestion.
Later, an extensive reorganisation scheme which involved the incorporation of the unused ground storey into our general plan, gave us the opportunity for which we had so long sought. This change was made financially practicable by a very generous well known American and indeed world religious leader.
Dr. Mott had always been a great admirer of the Memorial. ‘The finest shrine in the world’ he called it and it had always troubled him that the United States had taken so small a share in its preparation. So, after one of his frequent visits, he asked us to suggest to him some development, the cost of which might be met by admirers in the USA. This was a most timely proposal and we were able to submit to him the plans we had considered for the re-organisation. These he took home with him and a few weeks later he wrote to say that in view of his intense admiration of our hero and of the fact that the reading of Blaikie’s ‘Personal Life of Livingstone’ had been a formative influence in his life, he wished to be personally responsible for the cost of our alterations. We were deeply grateful. His was by far our largest individual gift.
We were thus able to construct, as the final word of our story, a Shrine in a quiet spot. We received from the London Missionary Society a large block of wood from the tree under which Livingstone’s heart had been buried and from this there was fashioned a rough hewn cross. Below is inscribed in juxtaposition to the great word of the Apostle Paul, ‘The Love of Christ constraineth us”, a phrase of similar content from our Scottish Apostle, Livingstone himself. ‘The Love of Christ compelled me.” The impressiveness of the shrine is much increased and the whole beautified by two stained glass windows by Miss Margaret Chilton, ARCA, the gift of the United Free Church of Scotland.
Most of our other improvements have been on our grounds and its fitments. Year by year these are becoming increasingly attractive. If it be remembered that Blantyre is situated in the great industrial belt of Scotland and that within twenty miles of our Mecca there lives more than half the population of Scotland, the social and religious value of our institution will be appreciated.
Immediately after the opening we were overwhelmed with applications for the accommodation of Sunday School excursions. Our field and the play-apparatus they contain were soon quite inadequate, and more ground had to be secured. We now own forty acres of land, twenty of which are playgrounds. On any fine Saturday afternoon in summer up to three thousand people, half of whom are children, may be seen in hilarious enjoyment of the pleasures we offer. Our popularity increased greatly during the War; attendances were more than double the average up till the, reaching in 1944, no fewer than 93,000 people of whom a considerable proportion were in the uniforms of many lands. Increasingly of late years, “Blantyre” has become a family centre, and the Trust is always on the outlook for suitable amusements to keep children and young people happy.
By the time this booklet is published the attendances since the beginning will have exceeded the million mark. This means that visitors equal to about a fourth of the population of Scotland will have gone through our turnstiles. Practically all of these pass through the Museum, and thus become familiar with Livingstone story and , we trust, absorb some of its inspiration.
In the grounds there stands a unique fountain, the “World Fountain” we call it, the gift of the widow of Councillor Maxwell, one of our first governors. It was conceived by Sir Frank Mears and worked out by his colleague, Mr. Pilkington Jackson.
From the centre of a large double basin filled with water there rises a great globe of the world about six feet in diameter, in which the land spaces are represented in bronze and the seas in greenish marble. It is so tilted that Blantyre lies on the summit, so that wherever the sun strikes the globe it is also at that moment shining on the lands it is illuminating.
A series of five plaques portrays the elementary occupations of mankind, while in the lower basis pre-historic figures in bronze throw fine sprays of water over the whole. On a bright day the effect is very beautiful.
The Memorial is a place of pilgrimage to all visitors in Scotland and there have been many distinguished sightseers, but perhaps the most interesting was a group of three African headmen who accompanied Tshekedi, the Chief of the Bamangwato tribe. The Chief was on a visit to this country to lay certain grievances before the Colonial Secretary and he came to Scotland mainly to see the Memorial and the group of statuary, which , as already told his tribe had presented.
The Chief, a well educated man, spoke English fluently, but none of his companions knew our language. The Memorial seemed a miracle to them. They said they felt themselves back in Africa. Their surprise and delight were thrilling to watch, especially their amazement at the Tableaux. At one point, the headmen stopped a long time, talking loudly together, their great round voices booming through the narrow passages like a spring thunderstorm. I noticed that they were standing before Mr. Miller’s picture that shows young David’s parting from his own father at the Broomielaw in Glasgowl so i asked the Chief to tell me what they were saying. He listened and said they were agreeing that Livingstone must have loved Africans greatly to have left his father and home and all that these meant to him and when at the end of the visit i asked the Chief to find out what had been his men’s main impression, I got the same answer. So with them at least, we had hit the mark. And when on leaving England, Chief Tshekedi sent us a message of thanks, he said that the two special impressions that he and his men would carry back with them were the welcome and friendship that had been shown them and their visit to the Memorial in Blantyre.
This, then, up to this present year of grace, is the story of the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone. It is a history that is by no means complete. We have still not a few unrealised ambitions. But for what has been accomplished we humbly thank the Giver of all good things.”