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Notes on the Geography of Malawi: Blantyre Churches

In 1876, five years after Livingstone's death, the Church of Scotland established a mission at Blantyre. There was as yet no town there--no Mandala, no boma--yet about a mile to the northeast an incredible church rose, incredible not in comparison to churches in Europe but in comparison to everything then existing between Egypt and South Africa. This small wonder was conceived by Clement Scott, head of the mission.

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His successor, Alexander Hetherwick, wrote that "Scott had no previous knowledge of architecture or building construction. He had never seen a brick made or laid. He began with no definite plan. The present writer remembers being shown, as he passed through Blantyre on his way home for first furlough, a few geometrical figures which he was told was the scheme or "theme" of the proposed church--three cubes forming the nave, a half-cube each forming the two transepts and chancel. ...each difficult and delicate detail was... laid without mortar, and then noting the result from the ground before laying the courses with lime."

See Romance of Blantyre, 1931, p. 77.

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Henry Drummond, who came by as the church neared completion in 1890, noted "the beauty and interest of this ideal mission" (Tropical Africa p. 21). Harry Johnston called the building Blantyre's "most striking feature... a very handsome red brick building, apparently a mixture of Norman and Byzantine styles with white domes.... It is at present the mean by which all natives measure their ideas of a really fine building..." (British Central Africa, 1897, p. 175).

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Some 80 wooden moulds were made, one for each shape of brick.

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Notice the pineapples, curious for a stern Presbyterian.

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Abstract figures, compound arches, and oversized bricks.

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Awaiting a saint.

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The roof must originally have been thatched.

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Chevrons and oculi.

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The nave.

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West entrance.

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"The temporary ceiling of rough sawn cedar boards, that had itself replaced a previous ceiling of bamboos, was removed, and in its place, between each of the pair of principals that spanned the barrel roof, was built a double row each of six panels running athwart the roof. The intersection of each transverse and longitudinal rib separating the panels was marked by a turned boss, that showed off the panel divisions which now were the distinctive mark of the massive barrel roof. The wood used for this was of the local mahogany timber which darkens with age and matches the main principals that are of timber cut on the bank of the stream that flows through the mission estate" (Hetherwick, pp. 153-4).

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Dome over the crossing.

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"Clement" to his friends, Scott's posting to Kenya was apparently less successful than his years in Nyasaland.

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A freestanding clocktower.

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Plaque.

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A new, nearby church hall.

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Its interior.

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The mission grounds are extensive and include the Central Educational Institute, later the Henry Henderson Institute, named for the man whose legacy funded its construction. This was a trade school, for men only. Four-year programs were offered in teaching, hospital work, carpentry, office work, and gardening. During the first three years, half the day was spent in a standard curriculum; half, in vocational training. During the last year, the entire day was devoted to technical training. Graduates received a certificate.

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Tbe austere foundation stone was laid by Livingstone's daughter.

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A student voice?

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The mission grounds had been laid out in 1877 by James Stewart, who arrived from India and brought with him the idea of British Indian bungalows. They came in several sizes; here is one of the most substantial. Gracious living? Edward Alston, who was the son of the chief clerk in the Foreign Office and a godson of Queen Alexandra, served in Nyasaland as postmaster-general and Collector of Blantyre. In a letter he writes of dinner at another mission. "About 18 of us sat down to a high tea, which consisted of tinned soup, tinned fish uncooked, boiled tinned meat made into an uneatable pie with tinned potatoes... and then some bottled fruit. The worst of it was you weren't allowed to help yourself, but a plate was handed to you heaped up to the top." It's funny until you read on to learn that Alston, born in 1871, died in 1897 of haematuric fever. (Baker, Johnston's Administration, 1970, p. 63).

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The bungalow's occupant.

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Simpler houses on the grounds.

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Blantyre has an Anglican church, too.

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The simple interior.

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Commemorating another missionary.

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Funeral service at nearby Limbe.

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The service is lengthy, musical, and choreographed.

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Singing hymns while circling the grave.


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