When Bryggjubakki united Tórshavn’s Labourers

The distinctive and colourful concrete buildings in Bryggjubakki have played a key part in Tórshavn’s rise to the bustling and creative scene/city/community it is today. Among the earliest organisations working within these iconic walls was the Faroese Labourers’ Union. That was in 1927-1935 when today’s prosperity would have seemed unimaginable.  

If houses could speak, they would tell countless interesting stories of how a society has changed over the years. This is certainly the case in Bryggjubakki, where the concrete houses have been standing proudly since 1927.

These buildings have housed a wide variety of businesses and organisations over the years, including Poul Hansen Heilsøla. The letters remain clearly printed on the creamy yellow buildings, although the wholesaler moved into new facilities outside the city centre decades ago.

Another organisation operating in these buildings from the start was the Tórshavn Labourers’ Union, which remained in the building until 1935 – when times were much harder than today.

Tórshavn in those days was a far cry from the modern city we have now.

In the early 1920s it became clear that a concrete wharf needed to be constructed to improve landing conditions for boats and to guard against the heavy surf which often plagued the Vágsbotnur marina, where The Tarv is now located.

Construction began on the first part of the wharf in 1922. It was to stretch all the way out to Tinganes, the historic location of the Faroese government.

As soon as work began, a heated dispute over wages started between the local labourers and the Danish construction firm. The labourers also complained that men came in from other villages to work on this project, because there wasn’t enough work for the workers from Tórshavn.

Tough times

The concrete wharf was completed in 1929 – the same year the Wall Street crash sparked a global financial crisis. Tórshavn’s labourers were also affected by this crisis, and the authorities levied distress on many of their goods as they struggled to pay their taxes.

The local labourers were hoping to earn some money doing dock work for Danish and Faroese shipping companies. However, this work usually ended up being done by the ships’ crews. The locals protested against this, saying that they – and not the ship crews – had the right to work on the wharf.

In 1933, the Tórshavn Labourers’ Union set out to assess how its members were doing. It turned out that their situation was miserable. Out of the 500 union members, 340 were unemployed and fewer than 100 were in full-time employment. So it is understandable that the labourers went out of their way to obtain available jobs and push for the creation of new jobs.

Pressed for space

With all these desperate workers gathering in the union’s community rooms, space became increasingly problematic as most of the building had been rented out to tradeswoman Hansina Johannesen, who ran a shop there. By 1935 the problem had become unbearable and the union ended up selling the entire premises to Johannesen for DKK 13,500.

Shipping company J. P. Evensen & Søn had just gone bankrupt at that time, and the Labourers’ Union was offered Evensen’s warehouse for DKK 25,000 (kanska goyma hetta til myndatekst). The union spent the next few decades there before moving into its current offices on Tinghúsvegur.

Today there are not many, if any, signs of these past struggles in Bryggjubakki and the surrounding Vágsbotnur marine area. This is now one of the city’s most stylish spots, with hordes of locals and tourists enjoying the seemingly ever-increasing number of trendy cafés and restaurants.

THE TARV is proud to be the latest addition to this impressive transformation of Bryggjubakki and Vágsbotnur.

Sources:  ‘Til arbeiðis! Lív ella deyð!’, Helgi Eidesgaard, 2017. ‘Stríðsmenn í Havn’, Uni Arge and Hans Petur Hansen, 2017.

Written by Uni Arge. Translated by prosa.fo