A history of The Barras in Glasgow

By Simone Smith

Whether you're familiar with its name as a flea-market, music venue, or a dodgy dealings dive, The Barras is a Glaswegian institution which at one time was the largest open-air market in Europe. However, it's not merely a market but a place of distinct character embedded in the Glasgow psyche.

Please turn on JavaScript.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions.

Billy's Barras

Billy Connolly talks (in 1986) about The Barras and a stall trader Frank Bennett who inspired him to become a comedian. BBC World Affairs Correspondent Allan Little describes some of the key moments from his career and answer questions about what it is like to report the world in an age of conflict. Bill Boyd reads his poem Hogmanay, written in the style of Robert Burns.

Barras origins

The city's east end has been a hotspot for bric-a-brac hunters since the late 18th Century. With the industrial expansion of Glasgow, and mass immigration from the Scottish Highlands, Ireland and elsewhere in Victorian times, the area became overcrowded. The swelling population of the lower working class needed somewhere to trade and make a living in the city. The Bridgegate or Briggait was synonymous with the rag and second-hand clothes trade at that time. The Glaswegian word barras (pronounced ba-ras) describes the handcarts which the traders used to hawk (sell) their wares.

When they were not selling from the barrow, the hawkers would travel to the middle-class parts of town to source bundles of clothes and other goods. Once home they would wash and mend anything saleable. This system of bartering and street hawking served many social purposes: it gave the poor and unemployed a degree of respectability, preferable to begging or stealing, and it also served to clothe the majority of the poor. Nothing was wasted.

It was from this background that Maggie McIver (later known as "The Barras Queen") was introduced to a way of life which was to become her destiny and affect the lives of thousands of people for generations to come.

Traders at The Barras today

An audio slideshow featuring five stall traders working at The Barras in 2011.

More from BBC Scotland

  1. Arts & Culture
  2. Comedy
  3. Health
  4. History
  5. Nature
  6. Radio
  7. Science
  8. TV
Robert Burns

Robert Burns

All 716 of his works, read by some of Scotland's biggest names

TV

Flats in Shieldinch drama River City

River City

Follows the ups and downs of the close-knit Glasgow community of Shieldinch.

Learning

Pencil and Calculator

Learning Scotland

Educational clips and games for children and adults alike.

Edinburgh Skyline

On this day in Scottish history

Learn about what happened on this day in years past.

Music

BBC SSO logo

BBC SSO

Keep up to date with the latest events and broadcasts from the orchestra.

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.