Friday, 15 April 2016

Bolton in 1937 a unique online exhibition of the pictures of Humphrey Spender

I first came across the photographs of Humphrey Spender about two decades ago when somebody gave me a collection of his pictures about Bolton in 1937.

The book like the project was called Worktown and it remains a treasured possession, if one I have temporarily lost in the piles of books stored in our cellar.

The photographs were part of a Mass observation “project founded in the late 1930s by a group of young writers and intellectuals, led by Tom Harrisson. They believed that British society was deeply divided, with very little understanding or consideration given to the lives and opinions of ordinary people.

The first focused study carried out by Mass Observation began in 1937 in Bolton, which they called Worktown.

Bolton was chosen as a ‘typical’ northern working class town, and Harrisson recruited a team of men and women who tried to capture a vast range of information about the local population using observation techniques."

They remain a wonderful and powerful record of life in the industrial north during the late 1930s.

Now given I cannot easily lay my hands on my collection I was very pleased to see that large numbers of them are now online at

The images will be linked to maps of Bolton and visitors to the site will be encouraged to help identify places and people.


Pictures; courtesy of Bolton Library Museum Services, from the collections in the pub 1993.83.17.08
 and elections 1993.83.16.34, 

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