Stories Behind: Mary Barbour and The Legendary Rent Strike

I am starting new series called “Stories Behind” focusing on the stories behind statues on the streets.

The series starts with a brave woman, Mary Barbour, whose statue was erected in Govan, Glasgow today at the International Women’s Day.

The early 1900s were the times of overcrowding and poor living conditions in Glasgow. The rent strikes were against rent increases up to 25%.

Yet the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association, established before 1914 to fight for better housing conditions, soon galvanised growing discontent over the increases by calling for a city-wide rent strike … . Early support from the areas closest to the shipyards, such as Govan and Partick, where tens of thousands were crammed into poorly maintained tenements, soon spread across much of the city. By September 1915 around 20,000 households were on rent strike in Glasgow alone, and the protests were spreading to other parts of the west of Scotland and beyond. (theconservation)

Mary Barbour was a leading figure in these epic rent strikes in Glasgow in 1915. They form eviction resistance groups, mainly women, which were dubbed as “Mrs Barbour’s Army”. (commonspace) This is how they organised the strike and prevent evictions:

one woman with a bell would sit in the tenement close, watching while the other women living in the tenement went on with their household duties. Whenever the Bailiff’s Officer appeared to evict a tenant, the woman in the passage immediately rang the bell, and the other women put down whatever work they were doing and hurried to where the alarm was being raised. They would hurl flour bombs and other missiles at the bailiff, forcing him to make a hasty retreat.  It is said they even pulled down his trousers to humiliate him! (Remember Mary Barbour)

As a result of the successful fundraising Remember Mary Barbour Campain, the statue was erected and commemorate her legacy and as a constant reminder of the legendary rent strike in Glasgow. It was a very crowded commemoration with several groups of people gathered around the statue.

Some stories are never forgotten. After a hundred years, Mary Barbour’s statue now stands at Govan Cross. Well-deserved Mary.


(Image credit: Top Eveningtimes / Bottom Personal Archive)


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