Post-war Lancashire boozers revealed in Mass Observation Worktown at Bolton Museum

By Ben Miller | 18 September 2012
A black and white photo of lots of men in suits attending a football stadium in 1937
Football crowds after a match, portrayed as part of the Mass Observation project in 1937© Bolton Council
Exhibition: Mass Observation Worktown, Bolton Museum, Bolton, September 22 – December 1 2012

In 1937, believing that British society was deeply divided, a group of young writers and intellectuals began recording various facts and figures in Bolton, picking the town for its place as a typical northern working class town and proceeding to work out fascinating figures such as the number of pints sunk by the average local every night.

Renaming it Worktown, the idea was to defy the lack of understanding and consideration they believed was afforded to ordinary people. Their legacy is a journey to pre-war life, with a shrine of more than 850 photos of people visiting boozers, watching plays, ambling in parks or heading to Blackpool (known, more pleasingly, as Holidaytown).

Julian Trevelyan and Humphrey Jennings are among the artists, joined by Bill Naughton – a future award-winning playwright – and items on loan including items from the Mass Observation Archive at the faraway University of Sussex.

“It recorded in great detail how people worked, ate and lived – even their political and religious beliefs and how they spent their leisure time,” says Chris Peacock, of Bolton Council, discussing the “fascinating” project.

“It is a really important collection both for Bolton and also for social historians across the country.

“We hope that people will come along, both from the local area and also from across the UK, to see how people used to live and to help us identify some of the people and places featured in the photos.”

The archive has already evolved after a dedicated Facebook campaign revealed several of the locations and individuals pictured.

Curator Caroline Edge hasn’t edged too far from her day duties as a PhD research project at the University of Bolton, dividing the show into themes ranging from Davenport Street, where the project originated, to leisure, work, art and holidays.

“There is growing national and international interest in the project,” says Dr Bob Snape, the Head of the University’s Centre for Worktown Studies, which has helped oversee a new website containing all the photos from the collection.

“This exhibition is a fitting celebration of the 75th anniversary. It should attract many people to Bolton.”

More pictures:

A black and white photo of a group of men sitting at a table in a pub socialising in 1937
Pub interior, drinking, smoking, dominoes© Bolton Council
A black and white photo of a man hairdressing another man in the street in 1937
Open market, working man's hair specialist© Bolton Council
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