I was lucky enough to visit the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex last year. Mass Observation is a very cool movement from the late thirties and forties that records what someone overheard in a pub, or what someone asked people on the street, and so on. There were a number of little things that I came across that I noted down simply because they were so cool and not because they were relevant at all, and today I'm going to share a couple with you. These come from the Worktown Collection, which is a study of one town, Bolton. They are all from late 1939/early 1940, so the second World War had just started, and England was beginning to feel the effects of rationing, pacifism, etc.
Armistice Day, Bolton, 10.11.39
A good-looking girl in twenties, selling poppies,
“We had an argument with some people selling the Daily Worker, no, not the Daily Worker, the Peace News. They were unpleasant. They said, ‘Shouldn’t have thought people would touch the things,” and so on. But it’s still easier to sell poppies than Alexandra roses and things. You get refused rudely with them, people are still polite in refusing these.”
Photography in War-Time, Bolton, 6.11.39.
Photographer, aged 36
(Q) Have people had their photographs taken more lately?
Yes, you bet.
(Q) Since War started?
Yes, and are we pleased!
Newspapers. Girl in restaurant, aged 27. MC.
“Oh it has been a nuisance. The newsagent can’t get my paper, the Telegraph, you know. It doesn’t come until the afternoon he says, and I have to have the Express (tone of utter contempt).”
Poster week 10th-16th December 39
Outside Unitarian Church
NO TORCHES NO BATTERIES
BUT THE INWARD LIGHT STILL SHINES.
War atmosphere, Bolton, 22.1.40
At the Duckworths, Tommy aged two came into the conversation as disliking his gas-mask. Sheila got it out to show. They had only had it on him once, and that success was achieved by giving him a penny. “He’s very fond of money,” said Mrs Duckworth, “so we gave him a penny to hold in his hand while he put it on.” This time Tommy wouldn’t be persuaded, though Sheila put hers on and he got as far as putting his face to the mask. Sheila likes to have hers on. “We were sitting here on Sunday,” said Mrs Duckworth, “when Sheila turned round and said, “let’s sit here with our masks on, mummy.”
(This series has been one of uncited excerpts so far, but I actually need to acknowledge this one since I signed a thing saying I would. Thanks to the trustees of the Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex. These quotes were taken from the Worktown Collection, Box 52: Observations in Bolton in the early months of the war, 1939-40.)