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:


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