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Blantyre and David Livingstone

Blantyre was put on the map in the 13th century when a priory attached to Jedburgh Abbey was established for the Augustinian canons and in 1598 High Blantyre was chartered as a burgh of barony.

There are many explanations of where Blantyre derived its name. One is that it comes from the Gaelic for "the field of holy men". Another is that it is from the Gaelic for "warm retreat". Some believe that it comes from St Blane and another explanation is that it comes from the Welsh - which was once spoken in the Strathclyde area - meaning "promontory".

Blantyre's population exploded during the Industrial Revolution. In 1785 a large water-powered cotton mill was established at Low Blantyre just over a mile north east of High Blantyre and a model village was created to house the textile workers, mostly displaced highlanders, lowland farm workers and Irish immigrants.

At the height of the Industrial Revolution coal was discovered and the whole area around Blantyre became heavily dependent on mining. On October 22, 1877, the day started like any other for the miners at William Dixon's Blantyre pits. But it was to end in tragedy. A gas explosion caused roof falls. One pit was cleared quickly with the discovery of seven bodies but another pit couldn't be completely cleared until a week later. The final death toll reached 207, leaving behind 92 widows and 250 fatherless children, making it Scotland's worst ever mining disaster. The cause was never established.

Blantyre's most famous son, explorer and missionary David Livingstone, was born in 1813. He started work in the local mill at the age of 10, but studied hard at night school. He was determined to become a Christian missionary in China and started a medical degree to help him on his way but the Opium Wars thwarted his plans. During his studies he met a fellow doctor just back from a trip to Central Africa where thousands of people had never heard the Gospel. Livingstone's plans changed and in 1840 he sailed for Africa. Immersing himself in the local customs and language he spent years exploring and charting swathes of the African continent, discovering the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls.

On his last trip to Africa Livingstone went missing and the New York Times commissioned the journalist H.M. Stanley to find him, resulting in one of the most famous meetings in history. David Livingstone died in Zambia in 1873 and his heart was buried under a tree near where he died. His body was brought back to Britain and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre is managed by National Trust for Scotland.

You will find more information on Blantyre's history and the pit disaster in the  Blantyre Past  website.