Celebrating 100 Years of The Barras

By Peter Mortimer


At the turn of the last century, Glasgow had become a major industrial city with shipbuilding and manufacturing providing its financial base. With this, the population expanded and so too did street trading.


In 1902 Margaret Russell a fish hawker, married fruit dealer James McIver, both in their early twenties. Merging their skills and determination, the couple leased a yard at Marshall Lane off Gallowgate and began hiring out barrows to street traders and soon had a fleet of 300. Their hard work paid off as the business flourished.


In the early 1920s the police in the city were keen to clean up the streets and began moving pedlars and hawkers on as they plied their business. James and Maggie spotted an opportunity and acquired land on Moncur Street and began an open-air market, charging for pitches as well as getting rental on their barrows, giving street traders a recognised venue to operate from.


In 1926 a covered market stance was built in Kent Street protecting stallholders and public alike! The Barras flourished over the years and became a big attraction in the city not only because wide variety of stalls, selling everything from ‘a needle to an anchor’ but it was the only place to shop on a Sunday. In a newspaper interview in the 1950s, Maggie told the journalist of an expedition going to the Himalayas getting kitted out at the Barras.

In the 1940s and 50s crowds flocked to the Barras in what was a golden period for the market with the traders becoming well-known, people such as Prince Abadou who sold snake oil which he claimed could cure all ills, Londoner Dick Lee who traded as ‘Cockney Jock’, Freddie Benedetti who supplied household goods such as crockery, cutlery and utensils and Curt Cook who was the go-to-guy for jewellery and watches. But buying something at the Barras also had added value, listening to the traders giving their sales pitch was pure street theatre.


Visitors to the Barras could also enjoy what we now call street food. There were numerous shops and stalls selling seafood where mussels, whelks and clappy-doos could be bought, whilst the chestnut roaster and sugar-coated donuts all added to the outdoor menu.


The biggest trading day of the year at the market was Christmas Eve when it would open until midnight selling satisfying parents looking for their kids' Christmas toys. The closer to midnight the cheaper the toy prices became, with stallholders eager to clear their stock, dolls and prams for girls and cowboy outfits for boys were among the favourites as well as colouring books and crayons to fill stockings.


In 2021 The Barras celebrates its centenary, fondly remembered and still an important part of Glasgow’s great heritage.



Peter is an author and Historian for the Barras 100 project. Photo courtesy of Peter Degnan.




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