15 things you might not know about the Barras and Barrowland Ballroom
From humble beginnings in the early 1900’s the Barras (named because of the market sellers bringing their products in wheelbarrows) grew into a world renowned marketplace.
The patter available in the Barras was as popular as the product.
Join GlasgowLiving as we explore some of the lesser known facts about the Barras and the Barrowland Ballroom.
1. Humble beginnings & The Barras Queen
Margaret McIver who came to be known as the Barras Queen, realised that instead of travelling around selling goods, people would come to her. After moving from Bridgeton to a yard in Calton, she and her husband James McIver sold yard space and barrows to fellow traders and the market flourished, into what is now known as the Barras.
2. Barras Murder: One of the most notorious murders in Glasgow’s history
Marion Gilchrist, the first woman in Scotland to qualify from Glasgow Uni, owned property around the Barras area prior to Margaret McIver. She was brutally murdered in her home by an unknown assailant. (Alleged to be a member of her family after she wrote them out of her will.) Wrongly convicted of her murder, Oscar Slater faced the death penalty, however several people, including Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes author) helped clear his name. He still served 18 years in jail.
3. Blitz bombing and Lord Haw Haw
During WW2 The Barrowland had a neon sign of a man holding a wheelbarrow on it and due to the notoriety of it in the area, William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw, a fascist propaganda politician based in Germany, repeatedly broadcast of its bombing. It was eventually removed for fear of recognition from German planes.
4. The Barras Queen and her self made millions
At the time of her death in 1958 Margaret McIver was a multi millionaire.
5. The Barrowland was burned to the ground
Mere months after The Barras Queen died, The Barrowland Ballroom was burned to the ground, like a phoenix from the flames it was rebuilt from scratch and opened once again, Christmas Eve 1960.
6. The heart of the Barrowland
The only item to survive the fire in 1958 was the cartwheel from the original neon sign, taken as a sign of the Barrowland’s enduring legacy it was placed above the stairs, next time you walk up the Barrowland stairs remember to look up.
7. Bible John and the dark side of the Barrowland
Between 1968-1970, Bible John, the notorious Glasgow serial killer, brutally murdered three victims, after meeting them at the Barrowland, the murder remains unsolved but similarities between Peter Tobin have not been dismissed.
8. Billy Connolly and the Barras
In 1988 “The Big Yin” said that it was after watching a stall trader named Frank Bennett leave people in hysterics with his patter, he was inspired to perform. Billy Connolly even bought his first banjo in the Barras.
9. Barrowland and musical royalty
Some of the greatest names in musical history have graced the Barrowland Music Hall, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, REM, Oasis, Simple Minds, Snoop Dogg, U2, Simply Red, Rolling Stones, etc, etc. You haven’t played Glasgow until you play the Barrowland.
10. Simple Minds and the “Waterfront”
The Barrowland gradually stopped being considered for gigs and became amongst other things a roller-disco. It was only after Simple Minds chose to film their music video “Waterfront” inside, that the old ballroom was reborn.
11. Barrowland breaking records
The enormous neon sign is thought to be the biggest of its kind in the UK and one of the biggest in the world.
12. Nae Barra, Barras is top 50
In 2009 the Barras was voted one of the world’s top 50 market places.
13. A Barrowland family affair
The Barras Queen legacy lives on. Her immediate family are still in charge, grandson Victor Cairns, still owns the world famous venue.
14. Life in the Barras yet
In February 2015 it was announced that March would see Scotland’s first beer festival taking place in the Barras Art and Design Centre (BAaD), with 17 of the finest craft breweries appearing at the inaugural festival.
15. The Barrowland is haunted
A team of paranormal investigators went in search of things that go bump in the night and they were said to have found the presence a man named James, with a scar on his face, who spent a lot of time away from home. It turned out investigators had described perfectly a doorman who had died years before.