Mass Observation and Worktown

Britain by Mass Observation, 1938

Mass Observation was founded in 1937 by Tom Harrisson, Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings with the objective of gathering information regarding the habits and customs of people in Britain. Harrisson and Madge established a small observation team in Bolton, with the intention of observing and recording everyday life in a ‘typical’ northern industrial town. Bolton was named Worktown by Harrison. The Bolton team comprised a small number of full time observers and also recruited local people – amongst them Bill Naughton, at that time a lorry-driver – as helpers. Harrisson invited Humphrey Spender, who had been working as a photographer for the Daily Mirror, to join the Worktown team with a brief to take candid photographs of people and situations to accompany the written records of the observation team.

Humphrey Spender captured around 800 images in relation to the Worktown project. Some of them can be viewed here at the Bolton Museum Archive. Bolton Worktown – Photography and Archives from The Mass Observation