Continuing the look at how Shuttle Row changed from slum to museum. As we approach the end of this account, Rev James Macnair wrote in 1943 about events around the opening in October 1929.
“The visit of Her Royal Highness to Blantyre and district created keen interest. Royalty had not been in that neighbourhood for many years, and that, coupled with the excitement of the occasion itself, brought together a crowd of some ten thousand people. The marshalling arrangements were in charge of the Glasgow Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade under Captain Andrew Macpherson and the unwieldy assembly was most skilfully managed.
In the afternoon the look of the sky was anything but reassuring. The wind was high, and clouds skudded past threateningly, but rain held off till almost the end of the ceremony.
The platform party that awaited Her Royal Highness’s arrival included many of the most famous African Missionaries since Livingstone’s day – Drs. Robert Laws and Alexander Hetherwick and less in years but hardly in reputation, Dr. Donald Fraser. The Very Rev. Dr. John White in full moderatorial robes added a touch of the picturesque. The Rev. Dr. A.M. Chhirgwin of the London Missionary Society represented the explorer’s old comrades. The Rt. Hon William Adamson, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Sir Robert Williams, the African Financier, sat near together, and Lord Hamilton of Dalziel and other local notables represented the county.
Her Royal Highness was according to ancient custom, in charge of Sir Robert King Stewart, the Lord Lieutenant of the County and had lunched with him at Murchiston Castle. Her was lay through Hamilton, and there and in the other townships passed, the crowding and enthusiasm were so great that the cars were twenty minutes late in arriving. Her Royal Highness was received with much cheering as, after reviewing companies of Girl Guides and Girls’ Guildry, she made her way to the platform.
After a few words of welcome by the Lord Lieutenant various members of the Livingstone family were called to the platform and presented. These included Mrs. Livingstone Wilson, the younger daughter, and her son and daughter in law, Dr. and Mrs Hubert Wilson and their boy David; Mrs. Oswald Livingstone, widow of the Missionary’s youngest son; Mrs Gerald Hodgson, a grand daughter, and Miss A.L. Bruce, a grand niece. There were also presented two nieces of Mrs. David Livingstone, the Misses Fredoux.
The proceedings began with a short devotional Service. The Moderator, Dr. John White, offered the dedicatory prayer, and the venerable Dr. Robert Laws pronounced a benediction. Next, David Livingstone Wilson the great grandson aged about five climbed the platform steps to present to her Highness the key of the Birth House door. On the way up he took a sudden fancy to the beautiful plush box he carried, opened the case, smilingly presented the key to her Highness and to the enjoyment of all who saw, marched off with the box!
Next, the Duchess left the platform, descended to the courtyard behind, unveiled the wall tablet which commemorates the part of the children of the Scottish Sunday Schools had played in the movement and formally unlocked the door that leads to the little birth room and then came back to the platform.
The Chairman, the Rev. J.I Macnair, then have a short explanatory address, which concluded thus: – “Our purpose is to make permanent a tradition that is one of the great moral assets not only of Scotland but of the world. The door just opened is narrow and the stair it leads to, stiff and difficult – fit symbol of the life of the great man born there. It is our prayer that in the coming years there may pass up that stair many pilgrims in quest of the ideal that Livingstone followed with such tremendous concentration, the ideal of a Christian Scotland and a Christian World.
Her Royal Highness then declared the Memorial open in these significant words: – “It is a pleasure and also a privilege to come here today and join with you in honouring the name of David Livingstone. It seems most appropriate that the birthplace of the great Scotsman should henceforth be a memorial of his achievements as a missionary and pioneer. Livingstone’s life is one that must always appeal in its courage and adventure to the youth of this country and I hope that this most worthy memorial will ever remain a place of pilgrimage to those who revere his memory.”
As the proceedings were relayed by the BBC, Her Royal Highness’s voice was clearly heard all over Scotland. Dr Donald Fraser then formally presented to Mr. Macnair, as Chairman of the Trust, the legal papers involved. He was followed in a short sympathetic speech by Mr. Adamson, Secretary of State for Scotland.
Some telegrams from Africa were then read. One was from the Mayor and Town Council of Blantyre, Nysaland, addressed to the kindly amusement of the crowd, to the ‘Provost and Town Council of Blantyre, Scotland”.
Dr Hetherwick, for many years the distinguished head of the Church of Scotland Blantyre Mission, in thanking the Duchess for her presence, handed her a beautifully carved oblong block of wood of the tree in Ilala , under which Livingstone’s heart was buried, adding with an old-world courtesy that charmed the audience, “It is fitting that you should perform this ceremony, since you hold in your hand the heart of every true Scotsman and Scotswoman all the world over”, a sentiment loudly cheered by the crowd.
Her Royal Highness then planted, as a tree of remembrance, a copper beech which has now grown strong and shapely, after which the National Anthem was sung. By this time, the indulgent clerk of the weather had given us all the licence he could spare and rain started to fall, gently at first, and the great crowd began to disperse.
Her Royal Highness, accompanied by the Lady-In-Waiting, then inspected the Memorial Museum and showed keen interest in all she saw. By the kindness of the late Rev. T.A.Hughes, one of the old rooms had been temporarily furnished with a sumptuousness it can never have known before. Here H.R.H held an informal reception when, at her suggestion, purses were received. Tea was also served and various members of the trust and many others were presented. So ended a memorable and most successful day.
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Paul, this has been a superb series and highlighted how much effort by so many to make the DLC a reality.
The town is fortunate indeed that the centre happened and evolved into what it is today.
Also fortunate to have the whole history properly archived and sequenced.
I look forward to visiting the DL Birthplace on my next visit. Manynthanks.