From Worktown to Cottonopolis


I have to share news of an event that is taking place this Saturday (29th March): Mass Observation for the 21st century. Here’s what the event will entail:

“Bolton is famous for being the centre of a 1930s Mass Observation project, seeking to capture the world of Worktown – their name for Bolton. Celebrated photographer Humphrey Spender and his colleagues attended football matches, trips to Blackpool and even voting in elections as part of their mission to capture everyday life in Bolton.

On Saturday 29 March 2014 the University’s Centre for Worktown Studies has a family event planned. There is a morning of 15-minute talks on themes such as Mass Observation, Worktown and Humphrey Spender’s photographs as well as a Worktown exhibition. This will be followed by an opportunity to follow in Spender’s footsteps.

Everyone taking part will travel to Manchester – whether by bus or train or car – taking photographs and making observations about the journey and the talks. People taking part can make notes and use a camera or use a tablet or mobile and tweet their pictures and comments. The Twitter hashtag for the event will be #MOBolton2014.”

The event is being coordinated by two members of staff here at the University of Bolton: Bob Snape and Ian Beesley. The full story is available here.

So why I am telling you about this, besides wanting to indulge my inner researcher. Here at the University of Bolton, we have access to a very important database called Mass Observation Online, which has gathered the results of missions to capture everyday life from 1937 to 1972. I’ve done a search for music (naturally) and what I’ve come across are diary entries. I could read all of them, but such is the richness (and sheer amount!) of the material I would be here all day. While that would be lovely, I wouldn’t get anything else done. A female civil servant, living in Morecambe and aged around 40, writes of going to the cinema, of blackouts, of the unfair conscription of women, of going to concerts. It’s wonderful stuff. Mass Observation Online is available on the A to Z list of resources on the library website – why not take a look!



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