Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s
By Gary Cross
Published by: Routledge
Publication Date: 04/10/1990
In 1937, Mass-Observation was founded to record the
everyday life of ordinary people for a popular audience. The Mass-Observers
followed labourers, from the routine of work and home life in the Lancashire
`Worktown' of Bolton, to the exotic realm of Blackpool. They recorded what they
saw, hoping to discover what attracted workers to this crowded gawdy temple of
Victorian culture and also to transcend class prejudice and sociological
The annual pilgrimage to Blackpool was at the centre of the
annual cycle of renewal and release in working class life. Led by Tom Harrisson,
the observers studied the holiday dreams of the Worktowners, the role of freak
shows, and the themes of music-hall songs.
They investigated crowd behaviour on the streets, beaches
and in the pubs, watching the sexual interaction of the Worktowners on holiday. The
observers also hoped to transcend class prejudice and sociological theory. The
seaside and its attractions were a stage on which Worktowners released their
feelings about personal life, family and work.
Mass-Observation was unable to publish this study due to the Second World War. Gary
Cross has now arranged and edited these largely forgotten testaments to labour and
leisure in British society. With Blackpool historian, John K. Walton, he also
provides perspectives on this study in essays analysing the history of
Mass-Observation and its image in Blackpool.