Irene Barclay

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Irene Barclay (1894–1989), née Martin, was the first woman to qualify in England as a chartered surveyor, and was a noted campaigner for social housing.


Irene Barclay was the daughter of a socialist and pacifist Congregationalist minister and the first Woman in Britain to qualify as a chartered surveyor, following the passage of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919. She sat her final exams with the College of Estate Management [1](now the University College of Estate Management) in 1922. Barclay was at the time of her qualification working for the Crown Estate as housing manager, managing its working class housing estates near Regent's Park.[2][3]


Barclay established a professional partnership with Evelyn Perry, who qualified the year after her, which they ran until 1940. Irene continued to practise until 1972, marking 50 years in the profession.[3][2]

Although Barclay had a general surveying practice she is best known for the work her firm did for the St Pancras House Improvements Society (later St Pancras Housing Association) of which she was secretary. This was founded in Somers Town by the Anglican priest Basil Jellicoe and Barclay provided it with stability over her long tenure as its Secretary. The Association later worked elsewhere in North London.[4] Her pioneering social and housing surveys in the 1920s drew the attention of the middle classes to the plight of slum dwellers including Somers Town, Pimlico, North Kensington and Edinburgh as described in her memoirs[5][6] Barclay, who has been described as ‘Irene, the patron of the poor’,was appointed an OBE for her significant and valuable work as a social reformer.[7][1]

Barclay subsequently played a leading role in the foundation of a number of housing associations in the 1920s and 1930s, including Kensington Housing Trust, Stepney Housing Trust, Isle of Dogs Housing Society and Bethnal Green Housing Society. Most of these were established on the basis of her surveys of property and housing conditions.[1][2]

Irene Barclay was sister of Kingsley Martin, and married John Barfield Barclay (c 1897–1966), sometime staff member of the Peace Pledge Union and of International Help for Children. On retirement Barclay went to live in Canada, where she died. She is commemorated in the Somers Town Mural in Camden.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d "Women Property Shapers - Irene Barclay". Mishcon de Reya. 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "Irene Barclay FRICS: Social housing pioneer". 2019. Archived from the original on 2020-01-05.
  3. ^ a b "International Womens day - The first female surveyor". 2018.
  4. ^ Roland Jeffery, Housing Happenings in Somers Town in Housing the Twentieth Century Nation, Twentieth Century Architecture No 9, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9556687-0-8
  5. ^ Irene Barclay, ''St Pancras Housing Association in Camden: What It Is and Why - A History'', St Pancras HA, London 1972
  6. ^ Irene Barclay People Need Roots, National Council of Social Service, London 1972
  7. ^ RICS Irene Barclay FRICS: Social housing pioneer