The Barras is a place that exists within Glasgow’s sense of identity as much as it is a market in the East End of the city. On a Saturday, the streets around the traditional stalls under the famous Barrowland Ballroom are claimed by furniture, antiques, clothes, jewelry, ornaments and paintings with a soundtrack of the animated chatter from traders and shoppers.

Actor Gavin Mitchell tells me this is his favourite part of Glasgow. “I’ve got a wee dog, so we walk a lot. One of my favourite things to do is wander down The Barras”.

“I still love popping by Danny’s Hot Donuts. I think the markets are the heart and soul of Glasgow. It takes things back to who you are. I used to go to the market with my granny on a Saturday. I notice when I still go down there, the way people talk, it’s heartfelt and it’s real and I love that.”

Timeless fixtures in the area include landmark independent store Bill’s Store, there for over 70 years, and The Rumbling Tum with their hangover-busting breakfasts. Music venue Saint Luke’s and award-winning cocktail bar The Gate have helped reconnect the Barras with the city centre.

The Barrowland story starts with Maggie MacIver, born in 1880 in Galston in Ayrshire. A young Maggie and her mother moved to Glasgow in search of work and settled in the Bridgeton area of the city. Maggie rented out a barrow and traded at Parkhead Cross.

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In 1902, when she was 22, she met and married fruit seller James McIver and the couple ran a shop together. During the day Maggie would work in the shop and in the evenings she would go into Glasgow city centre and sell bags of fruit to people queuing at the theatres and music halls.

Maggie and James had an entrepreneurial outlook. When Maggie first started out, she was hiring a barrow and some scales to weigh the fruit, but she and her husband James spotted that it would be more profitable to hire out barrows themselves and so they bought a little yard and started their own business. Before long they had a fleet of 300 barrows.

They then found a piece of open ground on the Gallowgate, they bought it, and started to rent out pitches too. A small community emerged. This year the Barras marks its centenary.

A decade of looking outwards and improvements to the public space around the markets has led to an influx of young illustrators and fashion designers to The Barras market that has reinvigorated the area. There’s pottery and sculpture, artist studios, vinyl stores and DJs. 

The future direction will include more street food and vintage fashion. Ashleigh Elliot, who works with Barrowland says. “We’re currently refurbishing the market stalls, some of which date back to the 1960s, and we are renovating the original sign writing to get the place looking its best.


"There are traders that have been here for generations and they are now joined by people like Estd who sell all kinds of pottery and there’s Woom Room stocking prints and apparel from Scottish based artists.

"Outside we are working to bring buskers in again and that could tie in with the artists that we have playing at the Barrowland Ballroom.

“We’ve got a Japanese street food stand, Monster Munchies, who have started selling bao buns and steamed dim sum.

“There have been approaches about more vintage clothes stalls so expect to see more of that. We are planning to add a bakery and there could be specialist farmers markets.

“We want to speak to people who have a new ideas and give them an opportunity to run with it.”


"When you are 19, the idea of playing the Barrowlands is the summit"

Jon Fratelli begins his recollection of how his band, The Fratellis, began an ascent through local venues in Glasgow on their way to international success. He decides to fast forward to the important bit. “I could be here for a while if I just go through the order that we got a wee bit bigger. I think we would probably all agree that when you're 19 years old the idea of playing the Barrowlands is the summit.

“Anybody that you saw that was playing in a stadium, somewhere huge, it didn't seem attainable, it was unreal. It was something that only happened on TV. But playing the Barrowlands. There was something more concrete and solid about that.”

“It always seemed like the pinnacle. The first time we played I was nervous. You can hear the crowd from the dressing room. The first time we were booked to play it sold out the morning it went on sale. Then they put another night on sale and that sold out as well. To us, we thought someone had made a mistake.”

“I think musicians and anybody creative in general, actually, have this streak of self-doubt. When you play the Barrowlands and people really start hearing your music, you retain that first rush if you’re lucky enough to get it. It dampens down, but it never really goes away. It’s still the top for me.”

Maggie McIver built the Barrowland Ballroom in 1934. After Maggie’s death in 1958 the business was run by her son Sam. When the building burnt down in the same year, Sam began the rebuild straightaway, reopening in 1960 with a resident band and occasionally offering the hall to visiting music acts – The Rolling Stones played a gig there in 1964.

With nightclubs on the way in, there was a lull for the venue in the early 80s. Enter Simple Minds. The band were searching for somewhere to film a promotional video for the Waterfront album.

Barrowland was suggested and suddenly it became clear that this would be one of the great rock music venues.

The building was transformed into a proper local landmark when the stylised blinking neon sign was unveiled in 1985.

The Barras has been managed since the Eighties by Tom Joyes, who has great reverence for the history of the place. He allowed me to stand on the stage during a tour of the building, looking out beneath the starry canopy of the ceiling at that famous springy, polished wood floor.

I asked Tom, who was the favourite artist he had welcomed to the venue. He thought for a moment, smiled and picked David Bowie, who played in 1997. Other inductees to the Barrowland Hall of Fame include Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Paul Weller, Primal Scream and Del Amitri.


The local artists of Recollective - Chris Leslie, Alison Irvine and Mitch Miller- spent two years documenting the story of the venue through photography, writing and graphic art for their book Barrowland Ballads.

Looking back, photographer Chris Leslie says: “The project was made all the more poignant because I loved to see the venue empty, to appreciate the building, the details, the pink and yellow shine off the dance floor - and the time taken to meet and photograph the staff.

“Little did we know that the following year the venue would remain empty like this for a long time due to Covid. It’s great to see the venue open again, the lights glowing across the Gallowgate. There is no other place like it in the world.”