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Worktowners at Blackpool: Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s

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 theory. 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.


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