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Mass-Observation Archive

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Worktown Collection (1937-40)

Between 1937 and 1940, Mass-Observation conducted a major study of the towns of Bolton and Blackpool. People's conversations and behaviour were recorded in a variety of settings - in the street, in the pub, at dance halls and cinemas, in churches and chapels, at meetings and public events, at work in the cotton mills and on holiday in Blackpool. The aim was to document Bolton's social and political life using the technique of 'scientific observation'.

Type of materials in the collection
The collection includes written material and printed ephemera. Over 800 photographs were taken by Humphrey Spender, of which 355 are available for consultation in the Archive. The photographs are now owned by Bolton Museum and ARt Gallery and are digitally available at

Team of investigators
The team of investigators, led by Tom Harrisson and later by Charles Madge, comprised students, artists and writers, photographers, unemployed workers and local people.

Associated publications
The project was partly funded by the publisher, Victor Gollancz, but only one contemporary book ever appeared, The Pub and the People (1943). More recently Humphrey Spender's photographs have been published in Worktown People (1982), and extracts from the collection have been reproduced in Worktowners at Blackpool (1990). A repeat investigation in Bolton undertaken by Tom Harrisson in 1959 resulted in Britain Revisited (1960).

The Worktown Collection has been microfilmed and is commercially available. Further information on accessing the microfilm copies is available.

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