WHEN Mass Observation chose Bolton for its study of life in the north of England it hoped to discover how ordinary people lived in an industrial town.
Its choice of ‘Worktown’ as a pseudonym for Bolton reflected the fact that work, in the form of the cotton industry, was the reason for the town’s existence.
Seventy five years after the Worktown project, the archive produced by the mass observers constitutes a unique historical record of everyday life in inter-war Britain.
It includes not only Humphrey Spender’s photographs but 65 boxes of written records detailing every aspect of life, including work, leisure, shopping, holidays, funerals, religion and politics.
Several boxes in the archive describe work in the cotton industry.
Visiting Swan Lane Spinning Mills, the largest cotton factory in the world, on July 7, 1938, an observer noted the predominance of women and girls, all wearing cotton dresses and sandals and looking after several machines.
An account from Cobden Mill, Draycott Street, describes how four employees had been chosen to attend the Coronation, while fellow workers were collecting for a “footing”, an unofficial celebration held in the weaving shed in work time.
There are also boxes of essays by Bolton schoolchildren, some written by the pupils of Pikes Lane school, describing what they did on their holidays — all include the names of their writers who could doubtless be recognised by their descendants.
Other boxes contain records of household savings, patterns of drinking in pubs, dance halls, church rituals and shopping habits.
A further unique aspect of the archive is Bolton Museums’ Humphrey Spender “Worktown” collection of photographs which provides visual records of places, buildings, streets and people.
It is unsurprising that the Worktown archive attracts international interest amongst historians and photographers and the Centre for Worktown Studies was jointly established in 2009 by the University of Bolton and Bolton Museum to support research based on Worktown.
It has received visitors from as far afield as Australia and North America, and provides help and guidance to anyone wishing to know more about Worktown.
The centre is a meeting place for researchers from differing backgrounds and the Happiness survey is an outcome of this.
All our events are open to the public and you can keep in tabs on forthcoming events at bolton.ac.uk/worktown.
Our next event, “Worktown to Cottonopolis”, is a family event on March 29 — why not join us and become a mass observer for the day?”