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The Centre for Worktown Studies undertakes and supports academic research and public engagement activities around the Humphrey Spender ‘Worktown’ collection of documentary photographs produced for Mass Observation in the late nineteen-thirties. This collection is held by Bolton Museum and the Centre is jointly established and managed by the university and Bolton Museum and Archive Service.

The Centre for Worktown Studies undertakes and supports academic research and public engagement activities around the Humphrey Spender ‘Worktown’ collection of documentary photographs produced for Mass Observation in the late nineteen-thirties. This collection is held by Bolton Museum and the Centre is jointly established and managed by the university and Bolton Museum and Archive Service. The Spender Worktown photographs were produced as a source of documentary evidence for Mass Observation’s ‘Worktown’ project which aimed to investigate and document everyday life in a northern industrial town.

A Mass Observation team was established in Bolton in 1937 to produce a detailed written and photographic record of everyday life in Worktown. The Spender Collection, which comprises approximately 800 images taken in Bolton (and Blackpool as the Mass Observation team travelled there to observe ‘Worktowners’ on holiday) remains in Bolton Museum` and is a social documentary photographic archive of national and international significance.

The Centre has been designated a Good Practice Case Study of HEI Museum collaboration by Renaissance North West. We are happy to meet and work with other researchers interested in Mass Observation’s Worktown.

Mass Observation

Mass Observation was founded in 1937 by Tom Harrisson, Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings with the objective of enabling an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. Harrisson and Madge established a small observation team in Bolton, or ‘Worktown’, with the intention of observing and recording everyday life in a northern industrial town. The focus of interest was the working class population and as Harrisson was later to note, ‘nearly everybody who was not born into the working class regarded them as almost a race apart’. 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 was to take candid photographs of people and situations to accompany the written records of the observation team. These photographs can be viewed on-line on Bolton Museum’s ‘Humphrey Spender’s Worktown’ at  http://boltonworktown.co.uk/

Recording Leisure Lives : ‘Cultures, Communities & Class in 20th Century Britain’

27th March 2018

A Tenth Anniversary One Day Conference at the University of Bolton, presented by the University of Bolton and University Centre at Blackburn College

The Centre for Worktown Studies invites you to its tenth annual Recording Leisure Lives conference on 27th March 2018. The theme of the conference is intended to provoke discussion and debate on the social and cultural contexts of leisure in twentieth century Britain. In particular it aims to explore ideas and meanings of culture, community and class in the context of leisure.  In terms of we are particularly interested in, for example, cultural hierarchies, mass culture, religion, politics and radicalism in leisure. We remain open, however, to other interpretations. The theme of community implies both spatial communities and also clubs, voluntary associations, hobby societies, civic groups, play groups and national regional and neighbourhood leisure organizations. In terms of class we hope to receive papers based around themes of socio-economic divisions, a leisure class, and other socio-historical constructions of class.

It is neither expected nor necessary that papers should cover all three strands. There will also be an open stream for general papers on leisure in 20th century Britain.

Keynote speakers include Martin Johnes, (University of Swansea) author of Christmas and the British: A Modern History and Carolyn Downs (University of Lancaster), author of A Social, Economic and Cultural History of Bingo (1906-2005): the Role of Gambling in the Lives of Working Women.

Please submit paper proposals [20 minutes] to ku.ca1540250538.notl1540250538ob@ep1540250538ans.r1540250538 by 19th January 2018

Bookings: Please complete and return the Booking Form. For further details please contact Bob Snape, ku.ca1540250538.notl1540250538ob@ep1540250538ans.r1540250538 or Bethan Atkins ku.ca1540250538.notl1540250538ob@sn1540250538iktA.1540250538B1540250538

Research Profiles

Bob Snape

Bob's principal research interests are in the social and cultural history of leisure in Great Britain between 1850 and 1914. Much of his work has focused on public libraries and museums. He also has a particular interest in the National Home Reading Union. In 2009 he established the University's Centre for Worktown Studies in partnership with Bolton Museum. This exists to promote research around the Humphrey Spender Mass Observation 'Worktown' Collection held by the Museum. This documentary photographic archive is of international historical significance, being a record of everyday life in Bolton in the late nineteen-thirties. It provides the inspiration for the University's annual 'Recording Leisure Lives' conferences on leisure in twentieth century Britain and the publication of reviewed papers.

Caroline Edge

Caroline Edge is an AHRC funded PhD student based in The Centre for Worktown Studies at the University of Bolton.Her research is concerned with the development of a participatory photography project inspired by Humphrey Spender’s Worktown photographs, which were taken for Mass Observation in Bolton between 1937-1938. Her background is as a photographer and teacher. Her work has been exhibited widely at venues including the Photographer’s Gallery, the People’s History Museum in Manchester and the Look11 Liverpool Photography Festival.

Peter Swain

Peter Swain is a born and bred Boltonian who recently completed his PhD at the University of Bolton entitled 'Modern Football in Formation: A Case Study of South and East Lancashire 1830-1885'.He has subsequently worked on 'Recording Leisure Lives in Bolton in the Twentieth Century', made possible by funds from the Marriot Trust, which was donated to the University of Bolton Le Moors Rotary Club. As part of that he has recently completed a monograph on 'Cheap, Accessible and Glamorous: The Golden Age of the Cinema in Bolton' which is planned to be published early next year. His next area of study is 'Bolton Women at Play: The Story of ``Our Game``' which will be a social and oral history of rounders in Bolton and District in the twentieth century.

Leanne Lewis

Leanne’s research for her PhD thesis, Society at Home: Observing Society and Recording Domestic Space explores the relationships between society and design. Drawing from Mass Observation’s Worktown project it employs ethnographic and observational methodologies such as diaries, interviews and documentary photography. It cuts across academic boundaries by retrieving, observing and recording evidence related to societal identity and the related meaning of the home. It will contribute to the historiography of interior design and architectural theory, social and cultural studies and art and design disciplines such as photography.

Jerome Carson

Jerome has been Professor of Psychology at the University of Bolton since September 2012.

Jerome’s interest in Worktown followed the discovery of the research that Harrison and his team did on Happiness, a topic currently of major interest. The Worktown researchers were the first to begin to establish a science of Happiness, though they would not have been aware of this at the time. Along with Sandie McHugh, Jerome, Ian Platt and others have replicated the original Worktown Happiness Surveys. Along with Sandie and the Bolton News, we re-ran the original 1938 Survey, as well as providing material for a series of articles on Happiness. Additionally Jerome is interested in Positive Psychology, recovery and wellbeing.

John Haworth

John is a Visiting Professor at University of Bolton. He has published extensively on well-being, work and leisure. Over the last two years he has worked with the Centre for Worktown Studies and the Department of Psychology at the University of Bolton on the Worktown Mass Observation Project which is currently investigating happiness in daily life. With Graham Hart he was joint editor of Well-Being: individual, community and social perspectives, a book resulting from a series of trans-disciplinary seminars funded by the ESR and published by Palgrave MacMillan (2007, 2012). His fine art prints have been exhibited internationally. He has given invited papers, and exhibited his art work, at international conferences in many countries, including several IMPACT International Printmaking Conferences.

Sandie McHugh

Sandie is an associate researcher in Psychology at the University of Bolton.

She recently joined Professor Jerome Carson as part of the Psychology representation on the Centre for Work town Studies pursuing her interest in Cultural and Positive Psychology. Sandie originally studied social and economic history and became interested in applied psychology during a civil service and sports performance career. She has been involved in a series of research projects in the University’s Household Financial Decision Making Section and a co-author in 6 published papers.

In 2014 Sandie and Jerome in collaboration with “The Bolton News” re ran the 1938 Mass Observation Competition – What Makes You Happy?

Kathryn Thomasson

Kath is an Ainsworth Scholarship funded PhD student at the University of Bolton. Her research explores how the influence of community arts outreach programmes in the field of drama can enhance the subjective wellbeing of women. Kath is working in collaboration with The Octagon Theatre through Bolton at Home Community Arts programmes, drawing from the Mass Observation’s Worktown project as a source for the development and evaluation of drama based programmes for women in Bolton.


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