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Blantyre Carvings

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Figure bearing cross, 2006
Figure bearing cross

The Blantyre carvings are a series of stone carvings, based on a religious theme, on a cliff face overlooking the River Clyde, below the site of the former Blantyre Priory, and across the river from the remains of Bothwell Castle.

Over the years, a number of assorted stories have been presented regarding their origin, some even claiming they were carved by monks during medieval times (Middle Ages c. 5th to 15th century), possibly associated with Blantyre Priory (1239 - 1598), however they are actually creations of the mid-20th century.

The carvings

According to Canmore:

A group of carvings, including the Passion, Crucifixion and Deposition (or Entombment?), have been cut into the rock face below the site of the Priory. These were executed by a local man, c.1956. Other carvings include one of the head of David Livingstone.
- Mr R J Smith, 1996

This concurs with our own research which began in the early 1980s, after becoming friendly with a local historian from Uddingston, Mr Ernie Russell (sadly now deceased).

Reference to the carvings is also said to have been reported in the Blantyre Gazette (date unknown), where a pair of articles referred to the subject. In the first, the sandstone carvings were said to have been made in the late 1950s or early 1960s, however it seems there was also an inference that they may have been of medieval origin. A second article follow-up on the story, and confirmed their more recent creation, and noted that what appeared to be natural erosion of the carvings was in reality damage caused by local vandals.

The carvings are described as depicting three Stations of the Cross: 2. Jesus is given his cross; 11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross; 14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense. Smaller carvings around the foot of the cross represent Mary, his mother; Mary Magdalene, a devoted Disciple; some of the Apostles, and a Roman centurion.

There have also been references to further carvings nearby, with one depicting the head of David Livingston, however we have never been able to confirm their existence during our visits to the area, and it would appear these have been lost to combined of the weather, erosion, and local vandalism.

The sculptor

We are grateful to Ms Alice Hawkins, who contacted us directly with confirmation regarding the sculptor, who was her uncle.

The carving were produced by a local Blantyre man, Tommy Hawkins, beginning in the mid-1950s (so probably 1956 as noted above), and were still being worked on into the early 1960s.

Alice is the daughter of Bud Hawkins, or Andrew, who is sometimes identified as the sculptor, but we are assured that his talents lay with singing, and he was never involved with the carvings.

Tommy Hawkins has been described as both a very artistic and a very shy person. He only worked on the carvings late at night or early in the morning, assisted only by a small minerís lamp, powered by acetylene or carbide. If anyone disturbed while he was working, with only a small wooden mallet and chisel, he would just walk away and not say anything about what he was doing.

His desire to avoid publicity was not to last, as it seems the local papers learned of his work, and ran a story about the carvings. As a result, he earned a commission from the Queen, and was presented with a set of chisels for his work.

Original detail

Detail of cross bearer, c. 1960
Detail of cross bearer
c. 1960

We are fortunate to own a series black & white photographs taken during an early survey of the carvings, and these show the work in sharp relief, in contrast to our own later photographs, taken in 2006, which show extreme weathering and erosion over a relatively short period of only 50 years or so. Sadly, our acquaintances who took the survey pictures are no longer with us, having passed away during the 1990s, when they would have been well into their eighties.

Scanned from an original black & white photograph taken during the early survey, the detail visible on the face of the figure bearing the cross can easily be seen in sharp relief.

Compare this with the later image below, recorded in 2006, showing that most of the sharp detail has been lost. This deterioration is consistent over all the carvings, as opposed to the areas which have been damaged as a result of vandalism). This suggests that while the softness of the local sandstone may be one reasons why the carvings exist at all, it also means they will not survive for any appreciable time.

Photographs

As found in 2006

Figure bearing cross, 2006
Figure bearing cross
Crucified figure, 2006
Crucified figure
Reclining figure, 2006
Reclining figure
Carved symbols, 2006
Carved symbols


External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-

 

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Aerial views


Map

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