Mary Barbour on the BBC Scotland John Beattie show

Great news. The story of Mary Barbour and the Rent Strikes is to feature in BBC Radio Scotland’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

The story of the Rent Strikes will be broadcast during the John Beattie programme at lunchtime on Tuesday, 25 February, between noon and 1.30pm. Slightly shorter versions of it are expected to feature on Good Morning Scotland and Newsdrive.

The story of Mary Barbour’s campaign against rapacious landlords during World War I is one of a series of stories the BBC is telling to commemorate the 1914-18 conflict. Other stories include: the Zeppelin raids on Edinburgh; Montrose Air Station; Carl Lody, a German spy in Scotland; the conscientious objectors held in Dyce Camp; John Meikle VC, Nitshill Railway Clerk; the Perthshire Patriotic Barrow; and Stobs Camp in Hawick.

Dr Catriona Burness on looking for Mary Barbour

There will be a Mary Barbour statue.*

The Remember Mary Barbour campaign was launched last year to make sure that the centenary of the 1915 Rent Strikes would see a statue raised in lasting memory of its key leader Mary Barbour.

The campaign won support from the Scottish Parliament and from the councils of Glasgow, scene of the most dramatic points in the Rent Strike, and of Renfrewshire, Mary Barbour’s birthplace.

Mary Barbour’s contribution to social history has been discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, on Newsnight Scotland and on Al Jazeera, and has featured in the Evening Times and The Observer.

2014 is going to be a key year for the campaign as we move into the serious business of identifying sources of funding. My contribution to the campaign will be continuing research support and trying to uncover more information about Mary Barbour.

The archive research that I have done so far has focused on the Govan Press, The Glasgow Herald, clips from the Socialist press, Glasgow Corporation minutes and secondary literature.

And I’ve had help (in alphabetical order) from Councillor James Adams, Professor John Foster, Maria Fyfe, Jean Melvin, Flora Pagan, artist Sharon Thomas and the staff of the Elder Park and Mitchell Libraries and of Glasgow Council Research Centre.

I have contributed to this website’s pages abut Mary Barbour. For me the high points of the research are when I come across something that brings Mary Barbour to life. Helen Crawfurd’s Memoir gives vivid descriptions of how the Rent Strike was organised and underlines Mary Barbour’s key role. If only Mary Barbour had kept a diary! I was interested in the Govan Press first interview with her after she was elected to Glasgow Corporation, struck by her seriousness of purpose and intent to be in the Chambers every day. The later report of her directly organising the sale of small fish in Govan highlights her practical focus!

This year we will draw together education packs putting Mary Barbour in the context of her times. If you have information on Mary Barbour it would be great to hear from you. Please email us at info@remembermarybarbour.com

*As long as we raise enough money! Please help us by donating to the Mary Barbour Campaign.

Esme Clark, Govan Community Council

I wasn’t familiar with Mary Barbour until I moved to Govan. Shocking isn’t it, as I’ve liked in Glasgow all my life.  However 100 years ago, the history books were written by men.  

Comforting to know though, that instead of a footnote in a dusty reference book, Mary Barbour’s memory still lives on in the memories of the people of Govan.

Not just from old photographs either, but in actual memories, taken from sober grannies and grandpas who as young urchins were part of Granny Barbour’s Army and sprinted through the streets to alert the activists at the first sign of trouble.

History may record her activities, and the work she did in the council, but it seems that people remember the warm and loving woman who wanted to see a better future for the people of her community in Govan, for the people of Glasgow and for the nation. I think that’s how Mary Barbour would want to be remembered.

Maria Fyfe on Woman’s Hour

Please listen to former Glasgow MP Maria Fyfe talking about why Mary Barbour deserves recognition, both on the streets of her home city by way of a statue, and in the history books along the other – male – heroes of Red Clydeside.

You can listen to the interview on BBC iplayer – the interview starts about 13 minutes in.