If you’ve ever taken a trip to Glasgow’s East End, especially for a concert, then you’ll most likely know of the iconic neon red lights emblazoned with the word ‘Barrowland’ and surrounded by illuminated shooting stars. With the likes of David Bowie, Biffy Clyro, Oasis, U2, The Stranglers, The Clash, The Smiths, Muse, Foo Fighters, Snow Patrol and many other acts having played at the Barrowland Ballroom, the live music venue in Glasgow is a legendary place but not everyone knows the legend who helped make it come about.
It was a woman named Maggie McIver who founded the music venue we know and love today. Originally from Ayrshire, Maggie moved to Bridgeton in Glasgow as a young girl during the time of industrial expansion of the city.
With an influx of people immigrating from the Scottish Highlands and Ireland to Glasgow during the industrial expansion, this created a population of lower working class who were in need of making a living. This lead to Bridgegate or ‘Briggait’ off of Clyde Street becoming a hub for the rag and second-hand clothes trade. Here and across other parts of Glasgow’s East End, people had barrows or ‘barras’ which were handcarts that the traders used to sell their wares from and they were known as hawkers.
At the young age of 12, Maggie McIver had her first taste of business when she took care of a family friend’s fruit barrow in Parkhead. She then went on to open her own fruit shop at a local fruit market in Bridgeton where she met her future husband and business partner, James McIver.
In 1920, after the First World War, Maggie decided to provide a place for trading to continue, so her and her husband organised a Saturday market on their land, now known as the ‘Barras‘. And it wasn’t long before they were attracting 300 barrows, of which Maggie rented many of them out to women. By making such a reputable name for herself at Barras Market, Maggie was later known as the ‘Barras Queen’.
In 1926, Maggie decided the market should be covered, as she was concerned about the health of the hawkers in bad weather. Almost 100 years on, some things don’t change in Glasgow, eh? Unfortunately, James McIver contracted malaria and died leaving Maggie to raise nine children and think of new ways to raise income.
In search of a venue for the hawkers’ Christmas dance and meal, due to the usual venue being fully booked, Maggie McIver made the decision to host it above the Barras market on Gallowgate thus founding Barrowland Ballroom.
The ballroom above the market opened on Christmas Eve in 1934, and was a huge success due to the dancing craze of the 1930s and allowed Maggie to provide for her family. By 1958, when Maggie McIver died she was a multi-millionaire. Unfortunately, in the same year of her death the ballroom was burned down due to a massive fire so underwent refurbishments and reopened on Christmas Eve in 1960, and the infamous neon signage appeared later on in 1982.
And even today Barrowland Ballroom is still owned by Margaret McIver Ltd and Barras Market is still going strong today if you’re ever after a bargain and some banter. Adjacent to the Ballroom is the Barrowland Park where there is a pathway which features the names of many artists, who have played at Barrowland Ballroom over the decades.
Barrowland Ballroom, 244 Gallowgate, G4 0TT