My favourite building: The Barrowland Ballroom

By Taylor Cross-Whiter, GCHT Development Officer

The Barrowland Ballroom music venue in Glasgow lit up at night with a neon sign


The giant neon sign flashes red, yellow, green and blue as you eagerly join the queue waiting to get inside, before climbing the stairs sticky from decades of spilt drinks, and walking into a cavernous room with stars twinkling down from the ceiling. There is the atmosphere of feverish anticipation common to so many live music events, but today there’s an extra special electricity in the air- this isn’t just any gig, this is a Barrowland gig.


The Barrowland Ballroom is a world-famous music venue, beloved by musicians, their audiences and the people of Glasgow. Shining like a beacon for the city, its giant neon sign lights up the Gallowgate and acts as a symbol of Glasgow’s music heritage, a heritage so important that in 2008 it was designated the U.K.’s first City of Music by UNESCO. Music is a huge part of Glasgow’s culture as a city, from the folk songs learnt off by heart in primary school to modern pop bands taking the world by storm.



This cultural heritage all comes together at the Barrowland, which was originally opened in 1934 by “The Barras Queen”, Maggie McIver, who was also responsible for setting up the Barras Market. The current building, with its iconic sign, was built in 1960 after the original building burned down. Initially a dance hall, many Glaswegians still fondly remembering getting dressed up on a weekend to go dancin’ there. Its legacy as a dance hall gives the building one of its most popular features- the spring-loaded wooden floor, a rarity now in music venues but which makes jumping up and down in unison with a crowd all the more enjoyable.



People’s memories of the Barrowland Ballroom range from the formal tea dances of the 1960s to today’s sweaty joy of being packed together singing along to a favourite band, all of the memories a testament to the venue’s ability to build community and why it remains such a cherished place for Glasgow.



Therefore, when the artists behind Recollective approached Glasgow City Heritage Trust about celebrating the venue and its untold stories, the Trust recognised the need for a project establishing the Barrowland’s importance to the city’s heritage. GCHT gave Recollective a Heritage Grant in 2017 to help fund “Barrowland Balladsa multi-year long project which used the mediums of photography, text and graphic art to explore the building, its history and cultural legacy. Barrowland Ballads culminated in a book of the artists’ work, filled with stories from the local community, photos of the building and its people, and pencil sketches of people engaging with the space. GCHT also held artist talks and an exhibition of the work. 



For many people, Glasgow’s heritage means the gothic spires of Glasgow University, the stately Victorian West End tenements, or the imposing City Chambers. While these all play a vital role in Glasgow’s historic fabric, places like the Barrowland Ballroom, with its legacy of uniting and rallying the city around it, are just as important. GCHT aims to promote and protect all of the city’s heritage, whether it’s Mackintosh masterpieces or iconic social history. We do this through our grants programme, which is open to everyone in Glasgow. 

You might also be interested in…

City Portals: A Heritage Project for Schools

Where will your portal take you? In Glasgow, some of the most striking features of our built environment often go unnoticed due to their structural function. Entrances, including doorways, archways and gateways, are not normally recognised for their aesthetic qualities but pupils from four Glasgow secondary schools, Hyndland Secondary, loch end Community High School, St. [...]

Walking Tour 4

The Tenement Renaissance City – the New Gorbals and Laurieston

Our walking tours are taken by GCHT Building Grants Officer, Niall Murphy who is a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge!

Walking Tour 3

The Gilded City – the Victorian and Edwardian city Our walking tours are taken by GCHT Building Grants Officer, Niall Murphy who is a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge! From the 1830s onwards, as the population rose and the rapidly industrialising city boomed, Glasgow was transformed. This age gave rise to some of the city’s finest […]

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and your support is crucial to ensure that our charitable work promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic buildings for the benefit of the city’s communities and its visitors continues now, and in the future.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our loyalty scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.