David Livingstone Memorial Centre

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The story of the David Livingstone Centre, by Paul Veverka (c)

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Extracts from the forthcoming definitive book about this endeavour, “The David Livingstone Centre” – by Paul Veverka (c)

1930 David Livingstone Centre by Mary Sommerville Gossman

1930 David Livingstone Centre, drawn by Mary Sommerville Gossman

The David Livingstone Memorial Centre is an existing National memorial to Blantyre born Africa explorer, David Livingstone. The story goes that a member of Hamilton Presbytery was asked by an American friend if he could visit the site where Livingstone had been born. Knowing it was now a house of another person, the Minister took his friend to Blantyre and felt more than a touch of shame upon seeing the condition of the place. A similar feeling was produced when the Salvation Army gave a tour to some West Africans on Monday 14th December 1925.

The whole concept of a Memorial Centre came about when a meeting was held in the Religious Institution rooms, Glasgow on Friday 22nd January 1926, when it was agreed to purchase Livingstone’s early home and grounds at Blantyre for conversion into a Scots National Memorial. The Right Rev Dr John White, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland presided. The intention was to renovate the building at Shuttle Row, which at that time was described as a deplorable slum and to provide a place for relics from the Livingstone era. No decision was come to at that meeting to purchase the adjacent estate and lodge although the buildings were discussed.

The Lodge house was of interest, for it was there, if they acquired it, they first proposed to show the relics, forming a sort of external museum.

1895 Blantyre Lodge House

1895 Blantyre Lodge House, Blantyre Works (PV)

President of the Congregational Union, Mr James McNair who initiated the movement noted that unless something was done, the tenement would likely be demolished. William Baird Coalmasters had graciously elected to give Shuttle Row, which they owned, over outright at no cost. However, the meeting was divided as some attending felt that Livingstone was not born in Shuttle Row, although there was no question that he did live there as a child. Some noted that Livingstone was actually born in a little house further down the River Clyde, nearby to Shuttle Row. However, this was contested and an irrelvenace for the house in question no longer there.

Appeals for financial support were sent out. The Executive Committee of the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone had completed arrangements for taking over the property and 9.885 acres at Blantyre at Whitsunday on 5th June 1927.

The sum of £1,285 was given to Messrs William Baird & Company for Shuttle Row, The Lodge, various houses next to shuttle row and of course the grounds. The work of restoration commenced soon after the building was evacuated.

The renovation of Shuttle Row, the building where David was born, cost £12,000, raised by Sunday Schools throughout Scotland between 1926 and 1929. From Summer 1927, the grounds were put in order, the Lodge demolished and work concentrated on the Shuttle Row building, particularly the little room, ten by fourteen feet in size where David Livingstone was born on 19th March 1813.

Contemporary artefacts and furnishings were acquired, all under the inspired leadership of the Rev. James I McNair. Prior to the opening of the David Livingstone memorial, the only indication that the great explorer was born in Blantyre was a plaque inserted into the gable wall of Shuttle Row, which also served to commorative Queen Victoria on her Jubilee.

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