Thanks to Anthony Roocroft for the Worktown Festival Cover Design

Sponsored by 



Welcome to the Festival. 

Professor Bob Snape,  Centre for Worktown Studies, University of Bolton.

Worktown’ was the name given to Bolton by Mass Observation for its study of everyday life in an industrial town 1937-1940. The records of this study were taken to the south of England and now reside with the Mass Observation Archive in Sussex. This Festival, presented by the University of Bolton’s Centre for Worktown Studies, brings Worktown back to Bolton. Based on local research on Worktown, undertaken by University staff in the Centre for Worktown Studies and also by local community groups, the Festival celebrates Bolton’s identity as Worktown through a range of educational and cultural activities. Thanks to all our contributors who include staff and student members of the University of Bolton and of University Centre Blackburn College, Bolton Museum, Bolton at Home, Bolton University of the Third Age and Live from Worktown.  We hope you enjoy it.


Creative Writing Workshop for Adults: Session A

Presented by Dr. Valerie O'Riordan, School of the Arts, University of Bolton

The first of two creative writing workshops focussing on the theme of Everyday Life. The workshops will be built around a series of writing prompts and guided exercises, and will be led by Valerie O’Riordan, a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Bolton. 

In this first workshop will join in a conversation about observation and record-keeping,  explore a selection of visual prompts from the Worktown archives, and consider their own daily experiences in  the context of the current international lockdowns. After the session, they will create their own written responses to the theme: these might be fiction, non-fiction, poetry or dramatic monologues. No prior experience of creative writing is necessary.

Happiness in Bolton - Let's Share it with the World 

Presented by Professor Jerome Carson  and  Sandie McHugh, School of Psychology, University of Bolton.

In 2013, Professor Snape showed Jerome Carson letters about happiness, which had been written by Bolton residents in 1938. Jerome immediately saw the research potential in this work, that had almost lain undisturbed in the Mass Observation Archive for many decades. Historian and psychologist Sandie McHugh, has worked with Jerome on this research. Apart from replicating the original Worktown Happiness Study, Sandie and Jerome have extended this research. Sandie has travelled the globe telling folk about the work in Bolton. “Happiness in a Northern Town” is the second book on the topic, which will be coming out in the summer. During their presentation, Sandie and Jerome are going to launch a prize competition for the 10 best e-mails on how this research has impacted on you the audience.

Photographing the English North 1890-1990 

Presented by Dr. Ian Glover and Dr. Keith Roberts, School of the Arts, University of Bolton

‘Photographing the English North, 1890-1990’ is an exhibition curated for the 2020 Festival of Worktown Studies. The exhibition attempts to examine how English northernness has been recorded and used to portray people, objects and places that are located within the region, and is based on Dr. Glover’s research. The exhibition has been supported by Bolton Museums and Libraries, the University of Bolton and with special support from the Centre for Worktown Studies. Photographs are drawn from a range of national and international collections and include pieces from Michael Kenna, Bill Brandt, Martin Parr, Bert Hardy, Humphrey Spender, Sirkka Liisa Konttinen, Tish Murtha, Chambre Hardman, John Davies and many other celebrated photographers.

Who were Bolton's Mass Observers? 

(Live from Worktown)

Presented by Dave Burnham, Live from Worktown

100 people volunteered for Mass Observation’s Worktown Study between 1937 and 1940, including around 30 local working people. Although mentioned in both academic and popular accounts we have not found any proper investigation of them.  Live from Worktown pulled together a small research group to do exactly this. Lockdown stopped this work, but we’re presenting interim findings here, including: who the local volunteers were; the roles of the local volunteers; how they got on with outside observers; what happened to them in later life.  The most intriguing aspect of what we have found is the nest of intricate, pre-existing relationships between these people.This is work in progress it is also a call to anybody out there who has information about the local volunteers. The interim findings, including full details of the local volunteers, will be available on the Live from Worktown website

Washing Line 

Presented by Bolton U3A Stitch and Craft Group

The Washing Line was inspired by the U3A Stitch and Craft Group browsing the iconic ‘Worktown’ photos of Humphrey Spender that contributed to the Mass Observation project of the ‘30s. Of all the photos, the one that resonated the most was the photo of the back street washing line. This inspired the group to create a washing line installation that represents home life, crafting (which is still alive and kicking!) and the events of the years 1937-1938.The thirty minute programme will include recorded contributions  from Mary Corcoran and Serena Johnson and other Stitch and Craft members talking about the items that they have researched, made and collected for the installation and what connects them to the everyday life of ‘Worktown’, an interactive Q and A slot to enable viewers to ask questions/make their own contributions in relation to the recording and, in conclusion, look at the completed installation.

Making Textiles. Designers for Industry

Presented by Donna Claypool, School of the Arts, University of Bolton

This 'exhibition' features research which is currently exploring the historical patterns of a Bolton based company Joseph Johnson Ltd, a weaving company managed by the Hollas family. These domestic textile patterns reveal global connections and Bolton’s rich textile history. The Museum holds a wealth of these patterns dating from c.1940s up to 1970s, many in the form of swatch samples for records of sale. Several are also accompanied by the original designs that reveal working practices of designers for industry. The research focuses on the creative reinterpretation of these patterns and their original, and future, context. Part of the exhibition also features work by the ‘Wonder Woman’ community group, creating a new set of pattern images for large-scale collaborative banners. 

Performance by Mike Chadwick songs inspired by Worktown.

Spinning Tales :  A Celebration of Worktown by 21st Century Cotton Queens

Presented by Kath Thomasson and Brid Andrews, School of the Arts, University of Bolton; Sandra Nichol, University Centre, Blackburn College and Gaynor Cox, Percent for Art, Bolton at Home.

The ‘Cotton Queens’ are members of a women’s community project, jointly run by Bolton at Home and the University of Bolton and funded by Ambition for Ageing.  The aim of the project is for women to develop skills, confidence and wellbeing by engaging with cultural and historical aspects of the Bolton area and its community. Specifically, the women have researched the lives of mill girls by examining the Worktown Collection of Mass Observation, 1937 to 1940, that provides an insight into their experiences in the mills and on holiday in Blackpool.

Project leaders and partner representatives will begin this session with an overview of how the partnership between the University of Bolton and Bolton at Home evolved; the role of community arts in community development practice; engaging with local history to create a sense of belonging and how drama and performance can be used to develop confidence in community groups. The Cotton Queens will then recount personal stories of their journeys and this will be followed by an opportunity to listen to an extract from their play ‘Worktown Wakes Girls’. Finally, there will be an opportunity to discuss the project with the project leaders as well as the Cotton Queens, ending with a showing of a short project documentary. 

We will also be launching the digital version of the project book - Spinning Tales: A Celebration of Worktown by 21st Century Cotton Queens published by the Centre for Worktown Studies.

Comparing shopping in 1930's Bolton with shopping in 2020 - Bolton Town Centre and Halliwell Road

Presented by Bolton U3A Local History Group

This presentation looks at shopping habits in Bolton, using Halliwell Road and parts of Bolton Town Centre to compare and contrast shopping in 1930's Worktown Bolton with shopping in 2020 (well, before the Coronavirus lockdown!)  Pictures and documents from the Mass Observation archive and other sources will be used to illustrate how shopping has changed over the years.

Allen Clarke and the Factory System

Dr. Paul Salveson (University of Bolton)

Allen Clarke was born in Bolton, less than half a mile from where today's University of Bolton stands, in 1863. His parents were both mill workers. His 'audience' was the industrial working class of south-east Lancashire. Between the 1890s and late 1920s he was Lancashire's most popular writer, producing a weekly paper between 1896 and 1908 and writing for a range of regional newspapers in Lancashire. His 'Tum Fowt' dialect sketches sold over a million copies, according to Clarke and he wrote over twenty novels. He was much more than a writer of entertaining sketches. He developed a sophisticated critique of 'the factory system'. His book 'Effects of the Factory System' was based on life in Bolton in the 1890s and was translated into Russian by Tolstoy, whose vision of an agrarian, non-governmental society Clarke admired. He was instrumental in setting up the Lancashire Authors' Association, whose library is in the process of being transferred to the University of Bolton. This paper will explore Clarke's attitudes towards 'Worktown' and what remains of his legacy today.

Paul is a visiting professor at the University of Bolton and hon. librarian of the Lancashire Authors' Association. His biography of Allen Clarke - Lancashire's Romantic Radical - was published in 2009. He is working on a new publication celebrating the centenary of Clarke's 'moorland masterpiece', Moorlands and Memories.

Creative Writing Workshop for Adults: Session B 

Presented by Dr. Valerie O'Riordan, School of the Arts, University of Bolton.

The second creative writing workshop will give participants from the morning session a chance to share their work. This session will take the form of a virtual open-mic session, interspersed with discussion, as participants speak about their experiences observing and writing about the Everyday.

If participants are willing, their work can be included in a creative writing pamphlet produced at a later date by the Centre for Worktown Studies.

The Centre for Worktown Studies

The Centre for Worktown Studies was founded in 2009 as a joint undertaking by the University of Bolton and Bolton Museum to promote and support academic research and public engagement activities around Bolton’s identity as Mass Observation’s ‘Worktown’. The Worktown project was an in-depth study of everyday life in the Lancashire cotton town of Bolton between 1937 and 1940. Its archive is  now an internationally renowned historical source of the social and cultural history of a northern British working class community. 

The Centre has strong research links with Bolton Museum's Humphrey Spender Worktown Collection of documentary photographs taken for the Worktown study.  We are happy to meet and work with other researchers interested in Mass Observation’s Worktown.

Click here to find out more about the Centre for Worktown Studies

Using Format