“Dr Livingstone, I presume?” are the immortal words uttered by the reporter Henry Morton Stanley, when in 1871 he finally caught up with the Scottish missionary-explorer at Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. The David Livingstone Centre, housed in Livingstone’s birthplace and childhood home – in Blantyre, not far from Glasgow – splendidly commemorates the explorer’s life and achievements with a range of lively exhibits and staff that are as enthusiastic as they are knowledgeable.
First impressions of the large, white house, set in twenty acres of gardens, suggest a life of privilege. Finding out that his family of nine lived in one tiny room reveals otherwise. In fact, Livingstone’s early life was one of poverty; from the age of 10 he worked at the nearby cotton mill, like his parents, for fourteen hours a day. The remarkable rags-to-riches story of his rise to become one of the most famous explorers of the Victorian era is brought to life with superb tactile displays, scene mock-ups, maps, clothing, audio descriptions and artefacts from his life, including a gruesome cast of his forearm bone, bearing the scars of a lion attack. Children are drawn into the experience with quiz sheets, puzzles and an ingenious “lion hunt”, to find tiny lions hidden in exhibits. They will also enjoy the play park in the grounds.
There are dedicated disabled parking spaces a short distance from the main entrance, though there are a few uneven flagstones and cobbles to negotiate along the way. Otherwise, the main car park is 270 yards from the entrance, to which it is linked by a wheelchair accessible path. The three levels of the house-museum itself are fully accessible, via a lift, and there’s a disabled toilet in the Africa Pavilion, which also houses the accessible shop (with hearing loop) and café. BSL-interpreted tours are free of charge, but you’ll need to contact the centre in advance to arrange one. Families with toddlers will appreciate the storage space available for pushchairs. Outside, the paths through the grounds and play area are suitable for wheelchairs.
Food & drink: The bright and spacious on-site café has friendly staff, and serves homemade soup, sandwiches, toasties and delicious home baking – the scones and caramel shortcake are fabulous. In the summer months there’s outside seating, and there are some lovely picnic spots in the grounds.