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Mass Observation Worktown Study archive, Bolton History Centre, Bolton Central Library: Wartime Bolton (Reel 47 Box 64A)

The war changed MO irrevocably. Harrisson and Madge were in London and the professional researchers found war work elsewhere. In Davenport Street three very young men carried on, Brian Allwood, Geoffrey Taylor and Alec Highes. Harrisson managed to get a contract from the Ministry of Information to report on morale in Bolton. In Box 1c is a note:

Preparation for morale work in Bolton:


interview people about attitude to war, couple of sentences, 300 in two days

collect overheards


‘vivids’ of worktown in war


Gas mask counts

Interviews with officialsgasmask

What selected individuals are thinking

Response to propaganda (radio, news reels etc)


Pub and shop counts (same places) on Saturdays

Write up reports and despatch to London

A set of reports in Reel 47 Box 64a include lots of ‘overheards’, snatches of conversation and opinion heard on buses in shops and the street. There are several Gas Mask counts recorded, which resulted in findings that fewer than 10% of people followed the government’s advice to carry their gas masks at all times. Another example of this work in Box 1c, reported by LE (Leonard England?) from a cinema on 14th November 1939, is set out below. This was the phoney war when there was action at sea but not much else.

Pathe News, ‘Behind the Front Line’

Applause at mention of British troops, the French soldiers, Churchill

Laughter at mention of Hitler

The Blitz on London when it started on September 9th 1940 saw the end of the Worktown Study. Harrisson, living with his new wife, Biddy, in Ladbroke Road in London wanted to, and MO was being paid to, learn how city dwellers reacted to the bombing. Bolton was not a target, so the three boys were pulled out of Davenport Street and asked to work elsewhere. Call up would have claimed them soon anyway.

 Dave Burnham, for Live from Worktown