Mass Observation Worktown Study, Four Observations from Ernie Luetchford
In 1936 Ernest Jesse Luetchford was unemployed, previously an iron moulder. He was heavily involved in MO from early 1937 and into 1938. Son of an immigrant from Kent, he arrived with his family in Bolton as a child. As a young man Ernie went to Canada for the harvest and overstayed, being deported home in 1920. A tall man, he successfully applied to be a policeman in 1925. Such jobs were steady, had status and a pension, not lightly given up. Ernie managed to get himself sacked in 1927. In April that year the Watch Committee heard evidence against him from a 19-year-old woman, Elizabeth Gray, and a male passer-by. Ernie, in uniform, but near his home late at night had sexually assaulted the young woman and threatened to arrest the passer-by for trying to intervene on her behalf. His defence was that he was merely confronting a prostitute. Despite being dismissed his wife (not Ernie) was offered the repayment of his pension contributions, no prosecution followed and neither was there anything in the press. But the dismissal did stay on his record, so how is it that during the 39/45 war he was taken on as a Special Constable?
Ernie lived as a young man on Norwood Road behind the Victory Pub which seemed to have been his local, but in February 1938 Ernie, Mary and their four children were offered the tenancy of a brand new Council house on Johnson Fold. His tale of the fumigation exercise is included elsewhere in these pages.
Ernie was a pub goer, a man’s man (in the parlance of the day), familiar with the seedier side of Bolton life. He could engage with the sort of people most volunteers would not get a peep out of. He wrote scores of reports, producing material written opportunistically as well as to Harrisson’s instructions. The most famous of his reports is his tour of pubs along Bradshawgate the weekend before the Coronation on Friday 7 May 1937. Ernie visited 14 pubs and supped eight pints before meeting Harrisson in the Man and Scythe at around nine o’clock (Reel 8, Box 3’I’). Another report - about Ernie and his family rather than by him - was when Walter Hood recorded a visit to Ernie’s house for high tea one Sunday afternoon (Reel 26 Box 32E). Local volunteers were sometimes used in this way being both observers and observed.
Four of Ernie’s accounts about Bolton life are here:
Reel 30 Box 37A, (9/8/37) Conversation with Tom Harrisson about his life as a Police Constable.
A bye law forbids trams coming within ten yards of each other. (presumably this was a safety measure passed in the early days of the tram system. Like any such system occasionally trams would back up in town when traffic was heavy. The bye law however was not repealed). When Ernie Luetchford was a Police Officer between 1925 and 1927 he pulled up tram drivers for that and they protested that if they took any notice of that their whole schedule would be messed up. The inspector raised hell with EL who was not put on that duty again.
Reel 8 Box 3B (undated but probably 1937) Observations in the Prince William Pub, Bradshawgate.
where you find a dozen prostitutes in a particular place…they watch one another for stealing clients…. One man said he was friendly with two prostitutes who were [there] regularly but ‘I always took the same one home’ and she often asked him why he did not take her pal home and he replied that he did not fancy her. His choice fell pregnant and went to Blackpool to have an abortion, taking care not to blame the man as she valued his custom so much. On her return she asked him if he’d been with her friend while she’d been gone. When he answered ‘no’ she said, ‘I’m glad to hear that because she’s got a dose’.
Reel 33, Box 42, (7/8/37) Report of Conversation in the Victory pub.
Man that’s working on a sewer scheme reports that they are sewering near Bolton Wanderers’ practice ground in Croft Lane, Manchester Road. And during practice this week the navvies have been kidding the players about being cissies and it has upset the players so much that the groundsman has take up the posts and they are now training at the YMCA ground.
The man says ‘why should they be able to strip to kick a bloody ball about. I have to sweat in a bloody cutting twenty foot deep with cord pants and it goes to prove they are only bloody cissies.
Reel 33 Box 42B, (21/8/37) Row in Vernon Street. He may have been here, a couple of miles from where he lived, as Ernie’s parents in law lived just off Vernon Street and MO HQ was in Davenport Street, just round the corner.
Obs was passing 39 Vernon Street at 11 am. On the pavement was a typical navvy with a shopping bag in his hand. He went up to the front door and kicked the panel several times and shouted ‘come down here you Irish Bastard an’ I’ll string you on this bloody Woodbine tin. I’ll give ‘im bloody paddy, the bloody Irish swine!’ and all the time Paddy is looking through the window with a look of fear on his face. This was repeated several times until the tenant, a little man came out and said ‘I’m going to fetch a policeman’ and walked towards Chorley Old Road with the navvy following him and trying to explain himself. The Observer then left.
Dave Burnham for Live from Worktown