USA: Living Classrooms on Guam

The National Trust for Historic Preservation

In partnership with INTO and ICOMOS, today we are celebrating the International Day for Monuments and Sites. This year’s theme is the “Heritage of Education.” And one of the very first places in the world to greet the day is Guam, over 8,000 miles from the U.S. Capitol in the Western Pacific Ocean. Its indigenous inhabitants, the Chamorro, became U.S. citizens in 1950 though the territory has yet to achieve its self determination status.  Since the 16th Century, Guam has operated as a strategic outpost for the Spanish and United States, and, briefly, during World War II, the Japanese.

In recent years, Guam has seen a resurgence of interest in the values and belief systems of the ancient Chamorro. This cultural renaissance has resulted in a resurrection of the Chamorro language particularly among the island’s youth, and prompted renewed interest in traditional music and dance, arts and crafts, and medicinal practices.

Educators have found that teaching about the ancient Chamorro way of life can be greatly enhanced by on-site visits to the village sites that predated Western contact. However, the U.S. military owns roughly 30% of the island, much of it on the island’s north where several potential teaching areas remain. As a result, these places are virtually impossible for school groups to access given rigid base security procedures.

Hiking to Pagat

Hiking to Pagat

Enter Pågat: one of the last ancient village sites that is still publicly accessible on Guam, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Mostly owned by the Chamorro Land Trust, public access to Pågat requires a steep descent down a coastal bluff from a main highway on the island’s northeastern edge. The site includes tangible artefacts of the past life there before the Spanish forcibly removed its inhabitants in a 16th Century campaign notoriously known as reducción.

Dr. Marilyn Salas, Professor of Culture and Education at University of Guam, frequently leads groups of college students to Pågat to show them firsthand the medicinal plants, potsherds, and pillar foundations of ancient houses, known as latte stones, which have became the most recognisable symbol of the island’s pre-colonial heritage.  Regarding the significance of the site as a teaching tool, Salas exclaims:  

“Taking my students to Pågat village is the core and essence of culture and education on Guam. Teaching and learning takes place the moment we step onto the head trail.”

A central feature at Pågat is its deep limestone cave, which contains a cool pool of freshwater and requires a flashlight to enter. In addition to being a great respite from the tropical heat, one can imagine how spiritually significant the cave must have been as the only freshwater source in the area.  It was literally the lifeblood of the village that once thrived there.

Starting in 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the U.S., in cooperation with We Are Guahan, and the Guam Preservation Trust successfully led an effort to keep Pågat open to the public and free from the nuisance of a complex of firing ranges. The U.S. military had proposed the training facilities on a nearby bluff which sparked outrage in the community.  Prompted by a court ruling in 2012 in favor of heritage advocates, the military has now pledged to do additional studies, putting the threats to the site on a temporary, and, hopefully, permanent hold.

I had the chance to visit Pågat several times with Joe Quinata, Chief Preservation Officer with the Guam Preservation Trust. Joe promotes heritage education on Guam in classic Chamorro style – with a joyous spirit and infectious enthusiasm for teaching others.  Though western archaeologists have confined the site’s significance to its tangible remains, Joe explains that the site’s significance is much broader, taking into account the traditional cultural practices that take place along the eastern coast of the island. Fishing, hunting, and most importantly medicinal practices occur seasonally in the area. On the hike he points out medicinal plants, significant breadfruit and banyan trees, and remind travellers that respect for the whole cultural environment which supported the survival of the site’s people is necessary to true preservation.

As is quite common in preservation advocacy, the efforts to “Save Pågat” have resulted in even greater attention to the site’s unique qualities and consciousness for the betterment of Guam’s heritage. It has proven that the protection of tangible places is necessarily intertwined with protecting the intangible – the values that embody the culture we put forward in the present.

USA: Hateful History – The Slave Dwelling Project

The National Trust for Historic Preservation

Many countries interpret their histories through the buildings that they choose to restore and maintain.  The United States, although relatively young, does the same.  Many of the architecturally significant historic buildings still on the American landscape are testaments of a nation with a proud history.  Some of these buildings at some point through their history may have been threatened with demolition for various reasons.  They still exist because someone or some group did what was necessary to save them.  By accident or design, in our attempts to save those architecturally significant buildings we have managed to ignore those buildings that represent a scourge on American history.  Those are the dwellings that housed many generations of enslaved people in northern and southern states.

Since May 2010, I have been conducting the Slave Dwelling Project.  The concept is simple, locate extant former slave dwellings and ask the owners to spend a night in them.  Thirty-eight stays in dwellings located in the states of Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia have proven successful in bringing much needed attention to these often neglected dwellings.  The stewards of these dwellings include private owners, non and for profit organizations and one college to date.

Initially, I would stay in these places alone but now I offer the opportunity for others to share the experience with me.  My most recent stay was at Hopsewee Plantation located on the North Santee River in Georgetown County, SC.  Although many, from descendants of slaves to descendants of slave owners, had shared this opportunity to spend the night with me in a slave dwelling before, this stay would be different.  Seven young African American males ages 14 – 16 were chosen for this stay.

Digital CameraUpon entering the cabin to prepare my spot for sleeping, I was not surprised that all seven young men chose the same side of the cabin.  I could not let them just drift off to sleep without first talking advantage of this teachable moment. I wanted to give them more details about what our ancestors endured for us to have the liberties that we enjoy today.  I asked fellow Civil War reenactors Terry James who would be sleeping in a slave cabin for the 12th time and Ramona La Roche who would be staying for the first time to join me in communicating with the young men.  My role in this teachable moment was minimized when Terry James led the discussion drawing on his experience of currently raising two teen age boys and his experience of sleeping in 11 cabins to date. When prompted by Ramona, I only had to chime in to keep the conversation in an historical context.  This involved telling the group about the movement westward of this young nation and how slavery factored into that movement.

As if planned, our teachable moment was pleasantly interrupted by owners Frank and Raejean Beattie, Raejean came to the side where Ramona, Terry and I were with the seven young men.  I queried Raejean as if the information that she was about to give me, I would be hearing for the first time.  She stated that she tries to avoid giving guided tours of the house because it usually becomes a tour about them and not the property and its past inhabitants.  She leaves the job of the house tours to the hired staff.  As she explained the history of Hopsewee, I could not help but to latch on to what she said about its connection to the invention of the water and steamed powered rice mill.   John Hume Lucas who owned the plantation from 1844 – 1853 was a successful rice grower and engineer and a relative of Jonathan Lucas, Jr. and Jonathan Lucas Sr.  Both Lucas’ Jr. and Sr. were responsible for inventing, building and perfecting rice mills.  I could not help but to interrupt her presentation to make connection to Eli Whitney and his invention of the cotton gin.  Both inventions increased the need for more slaves.

When Raejean and Frank left we became more grateful that the fireplaces in the cabin worked.  In anticipation of a cold night, Raejean and Frank provided enough fire wood to last throughout the night.  All of the young men were required to write essays about their sleeping experience in a slave cabin.  The content of those essays made me wonder what took me so long to figure out that these historic buildings, great stewards and the Slave Dwelling Project can provide great hands on learning opportunities for our youth.

USA: Lincoln and Self-Education

The National Trust for Historic Preservation

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Late one evening in the fall of 1864, President Lincoln received some unexpected visitors to his summer residence at Soldiers’ Home. George Borrett was visiting the United States from England, and wanted an audience with the President. Despite the late hour, Borrett and his escorts managed to talk their way into an audience with “the highest in the land,” and after waiting a few minutes Lincoln appeared with his “hair ruffled, eyes very sleepy and feet enveloped in carpet slippers.” Despite this “abrupt introduction” Borrett recorded that Lincoln spoke at length about his boyhood in Kentucky, and the Englishman detected a “quiet pride” in Lincoln’s voice as he talked about “his rise from the bottom of the ladder.” The scene is amusing in hindsight: a bedraggled president roused from his bedroom to meet with unknown visitors late in the evening. However, Borrett’s account also underscores Lincoln’s firmly held belief in what historians have labeled the “right to rise,” or the right to benefit from one’s hard work. Despite Lincoln’s lack of formal education, or perhaps because of it, Lincoln always insisted that it would play a critical role in facilitating other individual’s betterment of their own lives. Yet Lincoln also directly connected education to the citizenry’s appreciation of the American Union; it “was the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in,” because an educated people could “read the histories of his own and other countries” and thus “duly appreciate the value of our free institutions.” As a result, education could help people understand what the Union meant, and ultimately, why it would be worth fighting to preserve.

While Lincoln’s formal education amounted to little more than one year, what might be termed his self-education continued unabated throughout his life. Undoubtedly the most critical part of Lincoln’s self-education process was his love of reading, and perhaps the President’s favorite author was Shakespeare. Tales of political intrigue, deception, and bloody civil wars provided Lincoln with a framework for understanding his own struggles, with a means of conveying that understanding to the Northern public. For example, in June of 1864, as the President was preparing to spend what would be his final summer at Soldiers’ Home, he told an audience in Philadelphia that “this war has carried mourning to almost every home, until it almost be said that ‘the heavens are hung in black.’” In Shakespearean theater, the curtains were hung in black to inform the audience that a tragedy was about to be performed. Right around the same time Lincoln was declaring that ‘the heavens are hung in black’ the area apportioned for Civil War soldier burials at Soldier’s Home National Cemetery was filled to capacity, and a new cemetery opened across the Potomac at Arlington. Thus, Lincoln was using a reference gleaned from his own self-education to convey to the Northern public that he understood the depth of their frustration and despair at the seemingly unending bloodshed.

Lincoln's Cottage

Lincoln’s Cottage

As I sit here writing this post on the 148th anniversary of Lincoln’s death, I am reminded not just of the cost of the Civil War, but of the destruction that Lincoln faced everyday while staying at Soldiers’ Home. It is precisely this legacy of perseverance in the face of overwhelming obstacles that visitors to President Lincoln’s Cottage connect with—the human Lincoln, the man and president who could never escape the war—even at his beloved summer retreat.

Canada: A tale of 10 Story Trees and Rivers of Salmon

The Land Conservancy

Heritage Conservation means many things and there is no ‘correct’ definition. I grew up on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, a land of forests and rugged coast. The oldest buildings are no more than 160 years. The focus of most conservation efforts have been on the protection of the large stands of old growth forests. These magnificent trees are often over 400 years and stand taller than 10 story buildings. My first exposure to conservation was in efforts to preserve stands of these huge trees, but in 1997 the Land Conservancy of British Columbia was formed.

My associate Nichola Walkden and I set out to conserve the endangered grasslands of the British Columbia interior. Our assignment was to find a way to engage the rural communities in their preservation. We began a process of ‘landowner contact’, essentially visiting cattle ranchers. Visiting a ranch involved driving for hours on dirt roads either engulfed in clouds of dust or pushing through mud 4 to 6 inches deep. The ranchers were always cautious about meeting with ‘environmentalists’ from the coast. But inevitably our visits turned into long sessions drinking tea and coffee around kitchen tables and talking about the history of their communities and their industry. We learned that these ranching families knew an immense amount about their land, its history and the wildlife that surrounded them. Nichola and I quickly learned that if we were to conserve the grasslands we had to conserve the rural population which maintained and protected them. Without ranchers, there would be no ranches and without ranches grasslands would be lost to development. Lost too would be the rich history of the people who had pioneered these places, the remains of their structures and even the meanings of the place names.

Talking Mountain Ranch, in British Colombia

Talking Mountain Ranch, in British Columbia

This was the beginning of our connection to agriculture. As we learned the importance of working with ranchers we realized it was necessary to become involved in the conservation of biodiversity on all types of agricultural land. We also learned of the need to educate urban populations about where their food comes from, why it is important to purchase good quality local foods. We established programs recognizing those farmers and ranchers who farm in harmony with nature.

TLC has protected nearly 80,000 acres of grasslands and farmland in BC. This protection has involved long stretches of some of BC’s most important salmon rearing rivers, which in turn support Grizzly Bear, Eagles and thriving riparian communities.

Canada: INTO and the Victoria Declaration

In October 2011 the National Trusts of the world met in Victoria, BC, Canada for an international conference aimed at sharing best practices, discussing world issues and planning the best steps forward for INTO over the next several years. A prime theme of the conference was the importance of intangible heritage. The values of language, dance, culture and traditional ecological knowledge.

39351_142948862395349_5072678_nThe meeting produced the Victoria Declaration on the Implications for Cultural Sustainability of Climate Change. The Declaration points to the often overlooked impacts of climate change on communities, even entire nations though sea level rise, desertification, floods and fire.

The Declaration urges the global community, including in particular its leaders, to accept that Climate Change has significant detrimental impacts on cultures. That destruction of culture is a fundamental breach of the principle of intergenerational equity and thereafter urges them to modify their actions and strategies.

The Declaration concludes that:

“If the threat of climate change is largely described in terms of impacts on the physical environment, then the prospect of achieving global consensus for climate change action will always be undermined.   However, if the threats of climate change are also couched in terms of culture – of societal values – then there is likely to be greater responsiveness across the global community.   Put in terms of cultural identity, diversity and sustainability, the path to wider community understanding and so support for climate change action (be that mitigation or adaption) should be more achievable.  There will be engendered a greater willingness to embrace essential reforms.”

The Declaration was unanimously endorsed by the delegates and has become an important international paper having been taken by INTO representatives to subsequent COP17 and COP18  meetings, distributed widely and has formed the basis for several international initiatives. INTO – THE VICTORIA DECLARATION -.

Ireland: Buildings at Risk and the Irish Property Slump

The National Trust for Ireland- An Taisce

The Irish property slump has created new problems of dereliction and abandonment of architecturally important buildings throughout the country.

Bellamount Forest

Bellamount Forest

While the focus of media attention has understandably been on ghost estates and the plight of residents living in uncompleted developments, there is a parallel problem of dereliction and abandonment of our historic built heritage. This is a particular issue in Limerick City where the out of town growth has particularly failed the urban centre.

Across the country, major Country Houses which were to be conserved as part of development schemes are now lying empty following the economic collapse. Carriglass Manor (the home of Jane Austin’s former love interest) in Co. Longford and Whitfield Court in Co Waterford are just too examples.

The most significant case in the Dublin City area is Aldborough House, the last great mansion of the 18th century, located near the 5 lamps off Amiens Street. The fate of the fine 18th century house at Belcamp in Fingal which has suffered serious fire damage is a warning to be heeded.

Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham

Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham

Many fine educational buildings in Ireland are also at risk of dereliction. Loreto College in Rathfarnham, South Dublin is one of the most imposing examples of Victorian architecture in the city. For 247 years, it was a girls boarding school, though the school closed its doors in 1999. The central block dates from the 18th century, with large scale additions carried out in the 19th century. The building is vacant and is in an advancing state of dereliction, with no sign of suitable use being found.

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of providing education in Ireland. As its influence declines in an increasingly secular society, the issue of what to do with buildings which up to now have provided a religious education needs to be addressed.

Leitrim Gate Lodge

Leitrim Gate Lodge

In order to ensure the survival of our historic built fabric, maintaining continued occupation is essential. Temporary uses or occupations should be secured until long term use is resolved.

The announcement of a new tax relief for refurbishment of older buildings in Limerick, Waterford and other urban centres is welcome.

An Taisce has carried out a detailed evaluation highlighting numerous empty buildings of architectural importance in Limerick and Dublin on top of general high levels of property vacancy.

An Taisce is seeking involvement of members and others interested in the process to help build up a photographic database of Buildings at Risk where they live.

A sample of entries for Dublin, Limerick and Waterford can be found on the ‘Albums’ section of An Taisce’s Facebook page.

Robertstown Grand Canal Hotel

Robertstown Grand Canal Hotel

You’re invited to make this a participatory database by providing photographs and other information of abandoned, derelict or otherwise endangered buildings in Ireland to be added to the list. Any photos and/or information can be sent to


Portugal: Introducing the University of Coimbra

The National Trust of Portugal

Education in Portugal was in the XIII century taught in religious institutions, including in the monasteries. It was the subject of the Church and the Pope. 

On January 6, 1289, the most powerful abbots and priors of the Portuguese Church asked the Pope to establish a General Studies (University) in Portugal.

It was said in the document that the request sought to prevent many young Portuguese people leaving the country to go to attend higher studies in the 2 or 3 Universities existing then in Europe.

The creation of the University in Portugal was ordered on March 1, 1298, by King D.Dinis, with the appointment of General Studies. Nearly a century after the birth of the Portuguese nation, in the year of 1140.

By signing the “Scientiae thesaurus mirabilis”, that is recognised in the same year by Pope Nicholas IV,  the  king D.Dinis founded in Lisbon what came to be the oldest Portuguese University, being one of the 10 oldest in continuous operation in Europe and one of the world’s oldest. Initially in Lisbon, the university was transferred by the king’s orders to Coimbra in early séc.XIV, more precisely in 1308.

600px-Coimbra_December_2011-19aInitially installed in the ancient Moorish Alcazaba and then the Royal Palace, the architectural ensemble of its older buildings have centuries of history, and teaching of knowledge. It is a mythical place of learning. Its walls retain the past and positively influence the construction of the future.

Most notable is the Library building, called the “Baroque Library” of King John V. Built in the Baroque architectural style, this library, furnished prodigiously richly, houses over a million books, including many precious old and rare ones. Besides scholarly research, the space is still often used for concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events.

It is a highlight to visit the university city, which, in addition to the student population, is annually visited by many thousands of visitors. It has consistently been ranked among the world top 3 Portuguese speaking universities.

During more than seven centuries of existence, the university today is a landmark institution, and is currently linked to gestation of science, technology and the dissemination of Portuguese culture in the world.

The University of Coimbra, with its surroundings, has a unique tangible and intangible heritage and is a cornerstone in the history of European scientific culture and the world. The University of Coimbra has applied for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The Portuguese National Trust, recently associated with INTO, is working in the research and listing of the historical monuments and the state of conservation in the national territory.

England, Wales and NI: Learning and Interpretation at a World Heritage Site

The National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland

At Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal we are always looking at new ways to involve visitors, local communities and schools and colleges in activities to learn about the Studley Royal Park, including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey World Heritage Site. Our Learning Officer, Cassandra White, organises a programme of formal learning activities for schools and informal learning activities for our visitors and local communities.

Over 13,000 children visit the site a year with their school. These school visits encourage children to visit and value the site and develop a passion for its future conservation. One of our most popular activities for schools is ‘A Day in the Life of a Monk’ which gives children an insight to what life was like for the Cistercian Monks when they lived in the abbey.

Day in the life of a monk

Day in the life of a monk

We also work closely with local theatre group ‘North Country Theatre’ to create a day long history-through-drama event where children can experience life in the Tudor period. Children play roles alongside the professional actors and use the Elizabethan/Jacobean Fountains Hall (see photo) and the 12th century Cistercian Mill to investigate the lives of the mistress of the Hall, the miller, the seafaring adventurer and the steward and how they were affected by the Age of Discovery. This helps children understand the lives of rich and poor people in Tudor times and the effects of Tudor exploration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been using the World Heritage in Young Hands pack to develop some fun activities for our annual World Heritage Weekend which we hold the weekend nearest to International Sites and Monuments Day. We use this weekend to raise awareness of our World Heritage Site status and Outstanding Universal Value. This year we have a World Heritage marquee with an exhibition all about World Heritage, our site and other sites in the UK. Last year, we invested in a large fabric map and challenged families to stick fabric models of World Heritage Sites on the correct location on the map and then look up the reasons for inscription. We also have Bradford University tutors and students coming along to carry out a geophysical survey of the West Green of Fountains Abbey to explore the location and form of the ‘missing’ third abbey guesthouse which once stood on this site. The survey work will  include lots of opportunities for visitors to talk to the archaeologists and find out more about the history of the abbey and modern archaeological survey methods.

ICOMOS UK now sit on our World Heritage Site Steering Group and we are working with their representative, Peter Goodchild, to develop the potential for the site to provide education aimed at improving the appreciation, conservation and care of landscape and garden heritage. The Draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value describes the 18th century landscape garden at Studley Royal as ‘one of the most spectacular water gardens in England’ and ‘an outstanding example of the development of the ‘English’ garden style throughout the 18th century’. The site provides an ideal location to demonstrate and learn about the principles of conservation and sustainability in practice.

England, Wales and NI: What does heritage learning mean for us?

The National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The National Trust is a charity that works to preserve and protect historic places and spaces – for ever, for everyone. We have more than 4 million members, 65,000 volunteers and we welcome more than 120 million visitors to our places each year.

Our vision for learning (first adopted in 2002) commits us to embedding learning in all that we do by creating opportunities for personal discovery and life changing experiences for our visitors, members, staff, volunteers and local partners.

Quarry Bank Mill, Wilmslow, Cheshire.

Visitors in the garden at Quarry Bank Mill, Wilmslow, Cheshire.

We have a habit of using the word “learning” to mean “delivery of schools activities, usually targeted at Key Stage 2”. However, the idea from 2002 of “learning being at the heart of what we do” was much wider than that and drew on all of the learning outcomes that all visitors may gain (ie closer to the accepted definition of generic learning outcomes).

Across the National Trust we have a whole range of relationships with the formal learning sector, including:

  • Postgraduate and research relationships with individuals, Universities and Research Councils. These are often managed by strategic leads, national specialists, Heads of Profession but may also be through property experts.
  • Vocational training and apprenticeships such as the National Trust Academy formerly careerships), schemes such as Passport to your Future and project based activities at properties
  • Partner relationships, such as leasing four sites to the Field Studies Council, collaborating on policy with a range of conservation charities, or working with partner learning initiatives such as Children’s University or Eco Schools.
  • School relationships with a local community involvement objective – a good example is the large number of ongoing relationships with local schools (formerly called the Guardianship scheme)
  • Delivery of schools programmes at properties. For some properties school visitors represent a very important slice of their audience and these places (such as Quarry Bank Mill or Stackpole) carry specialist learning staff. These activities tend to be targeted primarily at Key Stage 2 children (8-11 year olds)

However, in practice the area that preoccupies us most is the last and largest of these – the delivery of schools programmes.

In 2010 we had a major reorganisation of the National Trust, involving a move to much more delegated framework. In reviewing all areas of our work it’s fair to say that it was we were spending too much time chasing volume of schools visits and that we had begun to think of ourselves as an education service provider. Now, while that may be a good approach for lots of our publicly funded counterparts (schools work is a visible way of showing how you deliver public benefit), it is not true in the same way for us. In practice, we want all of our places to deliver as much public benefit as possible, but with limited resources we cannot do everything for all audiences in all places.

So, instead we have moved to a delegated model: there is no national target for learning visits, no central policy framework (beyond the organisational strategy) and freedom for properties to decide their own destiny.

Within this framework, Property Managers and their teams decide what to do in the context of an evaluation of their audiences and property ambitions. We might choose to provide structured learning offer for a range of reasons:

-        because there is demand (although that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to fulfil it)

-        because it is a core part of our business model (ie schools business pays the rent) – although this emphatically does not mean that we should just chase volume.

-        for audience development reasons (although we need to be clear what we mean by this).

-        for local community involvement reasons – eg guardianships

However, it should be noted that other organisations have also made a shift in their learning programmes over the past decade. The trend, as exemplified by an organisation like the National Portrait Gallery, is a move away from lots of staff led learning activities, towards much more of a self led model and also a learning offer that links very closely to the wider family offer (ie is less about curriculum delivery and more about the type of experience that could be described as family learning).

Across the Trust this shift has also been mirrored at properties to a greater or lesser extent. At many properties there has been a move away from learning officer roles focused entirely on schools towards broader roles (VE and community, VE and learning etc). Some properties, however, remain rightly very focused on schools as a target audience – such as Quarry Bank Mill, Bodiam, Chedworth and Stackpole.

Scotland: A Place for Learning, the birthplace of Dr David Livingstone

The National Trust for Scotland

The David Livingstone Centre provides a fascinating insight into the humble beginnings of Scotland’s greatest explorer and tireless campaigner for human rights. From the single room that was the Livingstone family home to the journals and scientific instruments he carried across more than 30,000 miles of untracked wilderness – there is no better way to explore the life of this extraordinary man. That much of the collection only survived due to the efforts of Livingstone’s African companions to return it to his countrymen after his death makes it all the more unique. 2013 is the 200th anniversary of his birth. To mark the occasion on 19th March this year, the President of Malawi, laid a wreath on the tomb in Westminster Abbey of the boy from Blantyre.

Shuttle Row

Shuttle Row

David Livingstone, 19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873, was born in Shuttle Row, a millworkers’ tenement in Blantyre, a small industrial town on the outskirts of Glasgow. The survival of his lowly birthplace owes everything to the fact that his life and work inspired so many that he was elevated toalmost mythic status. But it is also important to note that it was in this unassuming, crowded environment where Livingstone first developed his love of learning.

It cannot have been an easy life or a simple thing to go from working in a cotton mill to becoming a university trained medical doctor and missionary. At the age of ten, like other children of the village, he was put to work in the Blantyre Cotton Works,working fourteen hours a day. Following this gruelling day he would then attend night school from 8pm to 10pm. Every spare moment, in the factory or at home, he studied books and nature. His father was a devout Christian and Sunday School teacher who encouraged learning. An equally devoted Christian, Livingstone found a way to combine his interest in science and the world around him with his faith, in the role of Medical Missionary. He went on to study medicine at Andersons College (now Strathclyde University), and successfully applied to train as a missionary with the London Missionary Society. When Livingstone left Britain for Africa at the age of 27, his achievements in escaping his simple beginnings were already remarkable.

David Liv flatSo, what survives today at the birthplace of this extraordinary man? Shuttle Row comprises an 18th century tenement adjoined to a terrace of later millworkers’ houses. The main building, a rare surviving example of early industrial housing, contains the Livingstone birthplace museum. We are incredibly lucky to be able to visit the actual one bedroomed apartment (or “single-end”) where he was born and which he shared with his parents and four siblings. Standing in this small and cramped room, faithfully restored with period furniture, one can only feel further inspired by this man’s achievements. The family lived their whole lives in this room, eating sleeping, washing, cooking. When children visit they are often shocked to learn that there were only two box beds and intrigued to say the least when they find out that the hooks on the ceiling were for hanging up the food out of the way of the rats!

Blantyre Mill operated until 1904. By the 1920s the remaining buildings had degenerated into a slum and were condemned. However, Shuttle Row’s history as the birthplace of David Livingstone inspired a campaign by local people, spearheaded by Rev James McNair, to preserve Livingstone’s birthplace as a lasting monument. Following a widespread campaign and general mobilisation of the Sunday Schools of Scotland, the David Livingstone Centre (DLC) in Blantyre was established as the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone. The museum was officially opened by the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1929.

Today, the DLC is run by the National Trust for Scotland and attracts visitors from around the world, eager to learn more about the origins of this iconic figure. The Centre’s core purpose is learning, engaging schools and the local community in particular in programmes which explore themes relevant to Livingstone, including the slave trade, Victorian childhood and working conditions, the Industrial Revolution and the environment.

The future for the Centre? The NTS is currently developing major plans to refresh and re-develop Livingstone’s birthplace as a place of learning and enjoyment for all in the 21st Century. Please keep your eye on our website for further details as our plans unfold: