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Dr Livingstone’s birthplace to be major attraction

Dr Livingstone is known as one of Scotland's most famous explorers. Picture: Getty

Dr Livingstone is known as one of Scotland's most famous explorers. Picture: Getty

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

IT ATTRACTS just 25,000 visitors a year, despite being the birthplace of Scotland’s most famous explorer.

Now the neglected attraction, created on the site of the former cotton mill where David Livingstone worked, is set for a multi-million pound transformation.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which has announced the plans just weeks ahead of the 200th anniversary of his birth, wants to turn the “largely forgotten” site into one of Scotland’s leading visitor attractions.

It is hoped to be the next big signature scheme for NTS after the new visitor centre at Bannockburn, which is due for completion in time for the 700th anniversary of the famous battle next summer, and following recent projects at Robert Burns’ birthplace in Ayrshire and Culloden, in the Highlands.

A new masterplan has been commissioned for the site of Livingstone’s former home, on the banks of the Clyde in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, after NTS and the charitable trust that owns the 20-acre estate it sits on admitted it was “unsustainable” in its current form.

A deal to simplify ownership and management of the David Livingstone Centre is expected to pave the way for funding bids to the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund to help pay for up to £10 million of improvements over the next few years.

The new-look attraction, which will also examine changes in how Livingstone has been viewed in Britain and 
Africa over the years, is eventually hoped to rival the success of the New Lanark world heritage site.

The original mill workers’ tenement building, in which Livingstone was brought up and where many of his personal possessions are still on display, is set to be given its first proper makeover since it opened in 1929, before being turned into a museum. New residential accommodation is also likely to be created in part of the building, which dates back to the late 18th century.

A 1970s visitor centre in the grounds is likely to be demolished to make way for a modern facility boasting African plants and live animals.

The grounds are also set to be transformed by a series of new pathways, opening up access to a protected woodland site by the banks of the Clyde, which is said to have sparked Livingstone’s interest in the natural world as a 
youngster.

Livingstone gained almost mythic “celebrity” status in 19th- century Britain as a scientific investigator and explorer. He is still revered as one of the great European explorers of Africa.

Nat Edwards, project leader at NTS, who masterminded the opening of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, said: “David Livingstone is not nearly as well known as Burns and although many people have heard about him, they don’t know that much about him.

“We’ve perhaps treated him with too much reverence and seen him as a bit worthy in the past.

“The great thing about the site in Blantyre is that his original tenement home, including the room he shared with the rest of his family, is still intact, as is the habitat down by the Clyde which he found so inspiring, which we want to make a lot more of.

“He had such an exciting life and there are so many magical elements to his story, which aren’t really properly reflected when you come here, and that’s probably why the visitor numbers are so low. The visitor centre, which was built in the 1970s, looked very modern at the time but looks outdated and tired now.

“The original mill building, where the collection is held, probably needs around half a million pounds worth of repairs and several million pounds spent on it to bring it up to modern museum standards.”

Ian Livingstone, chair of the David Livingstone Trust, which owns the entire site at Blantyre, said: “We agree with NTS that the number of visitors the centre gets these days is simply not sustainable and that’s why the new masterplan is being commissioned.

“I lose count of the number of people who say they came here as a youngster but have never been back since.

“You only have to look at what has happened with New Lanark over the last decade to see the kind of potential that exists here.”

A major programme of events is being held at the David Livingstone Centre throughout the year as part of the Livingstone 200 programme, which includes a major exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said: “We’re working with NTS and the David Livingstone Trust to investigate options for improving the centre and the environment around it, which we believe has enormous potential as a tourist attraction – as the David Livingstone story has international 
significance.

“The bicentenary of David Livingstone’s birth is also the driver for the Celebrating Lanarkshire 2013 campaign, which is encouraging local people to take pride in the area and its history.”

VisitScotland’s chief executive Malcolm Roughead said: “As one of the world’s most famous explorers, the life of David Livingstone deserves to be celebrated and I am delighted that plans are in place to create an exciting, modern visitor attraction.

“This announcement is particularly apt as the Year of Natural Scotland is all about encouraging people to get out and explore what’s on their doorstep.”#

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David Livingstone was born to a working-class family in Blantyre, eight miles south of Glasgow, on 19 March 1813.

He was brought up in “shuttle row”, which had been built for cotton factory workers at the end of the 18th century and Livingstone started working in the mill at the age of ten.

Taking two hours of school in the evenings, Livingstone was also taught to read and write by his father, and developed a love of natural history.

He studied medicine, theology and Greek at what is now Strathclyde University before completing his medical studies in London. He joined the London Missionary Society and was ordained in 1840.

From 1841 until his death in 1873, Livingstone explored central and southern Africa. His aim was to spread Christianity, commerce and “civilisation”, but as a skilled navigator, linguist and natural historian, his later missions were more concerned with exploration.

In 1849 and 1851, he travelled across the Kalahari Desert, and sighted the upper Zambezi River. In 1842, he began a four-year expedition to find a route from the upper Zambezi to the coast. This filled huge gaps in western knowledge of central and southern Africa. In 1855, Livingstone discovered a spectacular waterfall, which he named Victoria Falls. He reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean in May 1856, becoming the first European to cross the width of southern Africa.

He was often the first European to meet local tribes, winning trust as a medicine man. He was particularly sought for his skills in obstetrics, the surgical removal of tumours and ophthalmology.

Livingstone was a prolific writer and his journals, letters and published narratives provide observations on tropical diseases such as tropical ulcer, scurvy and malaria.

During his final years, Livingstone was beset with health problems, but he refused to leave Africa. He died in Zambia in 1873, by which time he is estimated to have travelled more than 46,000km in Africa, mainly on foot.

After his death, his body was buried in Westminster Abbey.

 

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