INQUISITIVE individuals took to the streets to observe the lives of Boltonians as part of a pioneering social experiment which begun in the 1930s.

At the weekend, members of the public retraced the footsteps of the men behind the Mass Observation project, launched in 1937, which captured the life of residents in a “Worktown”.

It focussed on everyday life, habits and customs in Bolton as a typical working class town and was the first mass observation study in Britain.

One of the Mass Observation founders was artist and photographer Humphrey Jennings, who documented his observations through his camera lens.

Saturday’s free day-long “Worktown to Cottonopolis” family workshop began at the University of Bolton’s Centre for Worktown Studies.

Talks were given by Dr Bob Snape, founder and head of the Centre for Worktown Studies, social documentary photo-grapher Ian Beesley, PhD researcher Caroline Edge and psychology researcher Sandie McHugh.

Attendees then had the chance to view some of Jennings’ candid snaps before boarding a train from Bolton to Manchester, or “Cottonopolis”, to conduct observations focusing on hats, happiness and shopping.

Dr Snape said: “During the Mass Observation project, members of the public were recruited to watch the people of Bolton. People made notes on what they saw — listening and watching in the market, the pub, church, the park, and at football and wrestling matches.

“The people on Saturday were observing in exactly the same way. It was a chance for local people to find out more about Worktown and will feed back into our body of research.”

Also in attendance throughout the day was award-winning Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband, who captured the day in drawings.

He said: “I will be drawing cartoons of the stories I hear and what I see as part of the Mass Observation Project. It is a fascinating subject.”

During the train journey, participants were encouraged to document what they saw and heard by taking photographs, making notes and tweeting.

  • Residents are encouraged to follow @worktownbolton and tweet their own observations of Bolton using the hashtag #MOBolton2014