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Help Wanted!... to Trace Thirty ‘Worktown’ People

In 2020, the University of Bolton is commemorating the famous Mass Observation ‘Worktown’ Survey which took place in Bolton between 1937 and 1940. A full programme of university events is available from Live from Worktown is contributing to the commemoration by inviting you to join us in a search – a search for local people who were volunteers with the Worktown Survey.

Contact Dave Burnham, email: or phone: 07758 365696

 Mass Observation

Mass Observation started when Tom Harrisson, an anthropologist, came back from investigating Pacific islanders’ lives and realised that Britain’s Establishment – parliamentarians, government, press - had no idea how working people here lived. Along with a poet Charles Madge he set up Mass Observation (MO), an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. Harrisson rented a terraced house 85 Davenport Street, School Hill, and recruited volunteers who were sent out across town to listen to people, watch what they did and note it all down. Volunteers ‘observed’ (snooped, some said) in churches, the street, pubs, everywhere people gathered. They looked out for how people dressed, did their shopping, talked, drank, smoked…and everything in between. Every ‘observation’ was noted down, the result being a vast hoard of records about life in Bolton in the 1930s.

 The MO plan was to publish four books, but as the war intervened in 1939 only two appeared ‘The First Year’s Work’ and ‘The Pub and the People’ in each of which Bolton is referred to as ‘Worktown’. Miraculously the entire hoard of reports on Bolton survived and is available today in Bolton Central Library’s History Centre, offering unique insights into life in the town 80 years ago.

 Local Volunteers

Live from Worktown has been looking at these records and identified nearly a hundred separate individuals who volunteered for the Worktown project. Most came from the south - Oxbridge students, artists, photographers – affluent, entitled people, who had no experience of the Industrial North. Most stayed a week or so, some very much longer. But some volunteers were local people. There may have been more, but we know the names of thirty of them

  1. Clarice and Norman Banks - 34 Arthur Street, Little Lever. Son Roy Banks married Marilyn Young, address possible 2003 – 2010, 3 Hope Green Way, Addlington, SK10 4 NR

  2. Jack Banks ‘schoolboy’. Could this be James Banks (mother Mary J Banks and sister Elizabeth), 53 Randall Street, Bolton, Living at 4 Lincoln Grove at his time of death in 1982

  3. Annie Barlow – 68 Pennington Road. Labour exchange clerk. Married volunteer Alec Hughes.

  4. David Bee – noted as ‘blind, unemployed’. Lived at 12 Tyndall Street in 1939, with mother Eliza. Lived at 21 Tyndall Street on his death. Father was George and brothers and sisters were Florence, Jane, Joseph and William.

  5. Eric Bennett – 147, Moncrieffe Street. TU official, married to or had a mother called Margaret Bennett. Father was William, brother was John.

  6. John Edward Bright – Unitarian Minister, 57 Manchester Road in 1938. Died in Pershore.

  7. Penelope Barlow – Daughter of Thomas Barlow, of Barlow and Jones.

  8. Tom Binks – born 28/12/1908 at 42 Burnaby Street.

  9. Bridget Coulton – teacher.

  10. Joe Darbyshire – had been a collier, retired in 37/38 or unemployed.

  11. Ernest and Constance Duckworth and daughter Sheila (b. 1927) and Tom (b. 1937). Not volunteers, but neighbours and friends of of MO on Davenport Street. Lived in Benson Street in 1951/2. Sheila married Fred Farnworth and lived at 8 Vickerman Street. Son Thomas left for Canada in 1958 and gave his address as 214 Benson Street

  12. Joseph (Jack) M. Fagan – coal yard worker, born 1910 lived at 80 Hampden Street. Father Joseph, mother Ann, siblings Thomas, James and George. Family also at 78 Hampden Street?)

  13. Harry Gordon – Anti-Fascist Committee member, knew Harold Shaw. Later in life friends with Jack Roe and Austin Ratcliffe.

  14. Tom Hadfield – warehouseman.

  15. Philip Neville Harker – born 1906, brought up at 115 Withins Lane, lstarted work in a bank, started training to be a Unitarian Minister. Left wing activist. By 1939 lived at 5 Kew Grove, Blackpool

  16. Tom Honeyford – was born in 1890 spent a lot of his life as a spinner. 193 Worsley Road Walkden.

  17. Peter Jackson – Workers Educational Association class.

  18. Ernest Luetchford – 19 Norwood Grove, Trafalgar, off Chorley Old Road.

  19. Joyce Mangnall – weaver.

  20. Mrs Mayoh – probably housekeeper for 85 Davenport Street (MO HQ in Bolton). Lived at no 76 with husband Frank. Daughter Eileen marred in 1947 giving her address as 58 Davenport Street.

  21. Bill Naughton – lived at 38 Marld Crescent Johnson Fold - lorry driver. Married to Annie Wilcock.

  22. James Brian O’Hara - Labour candidate 1938 for Hulton, 916 Plodder Lane, ‘clerk’.

  23. Bill Rigby – 17 Johnson Fold Avenue. Retired, or unemployed, miner. Son David and wife Jennifer, nee Butler, based in Salford. Two possible daughters, Joanne Louise and Nicole Claire Rigby.

  24. John Rees – shop assistant.

  25. Norman Ryce – clerk, 4 Crowland Road, died at Strathmore Nursing Home, Seymour Road, 1994.

  26. Rita R – housewife interviews, but we do not know her full name.

  27. Harold Shaw Optician, lived at 69 Davenport Street with his wife Louisa Beatrice.

  28. Barbara Smethurst – lived at ‘Sidcot’ on Chorley New Road, sister of inventor Philip Smethurst.

  29. Albert E Smith – lecturer for Worker’s Educational Association. lived at 57 Kewick Street in 1939, but 32 Swan Lane in 1940. Wartime Conscientious Objector.

  30. Leslie Taylor – unemployed shop assistant.


Chasing the Past

We want to find out about these people and have launched a project to do just that – looking for what they did before Mass Observation, what happened afterwards and if they had children and grandchildren. We’ll publish what we find on a website or perhaps in a hard copy publication.

What is the point of this?

  • First of all to those interested in this sort of search it will be fun – as it might be for those with relatives who were involved.

  • The search will also contribute to the social history of the town…

  • and might introduce people to aspects of their history they had no idea about.

  • But the more significant aspect of the search is to connect these people from the past with who we are today. With the end of the textile industry Bolton has lost its purpose. While this is regretted by older people, some younger people have no idea of this legacy. Making the connections that our search throws up will help bring Bolton’s heritage alive and possibly enhance people’s sense of belonging.

 Get Involved

If you want to get involved in the search let your members know about Chasing the Past. Anyone interested should get in touch with Dave Burnham email: or phone: 07758 365696


Dave Burnham, for Live from Worktown