Study Into The Work Of Humphrey Spender History Essay

In Britain a undertaking known as Mass Observation began in 1937, it was at the clip the largest probe into the civilization of one state. Mass Observation the ‘fact happening organic structure ‘ was a extremist sociological research group founded by Tom Harrison, Humphrey Jennings and Charles Madge. It ‘s intent was to garner facts about the day-to-day activities and wonts of ordinary British work forces, adult females and kids.

Through covert surveillance, journals, exposure and open ended sentiment polls Mass Observation ‘s chief purpose was to dispute what they called the ‘voicelessness of every adult male ‘ , they wanted to do ordinary citizens sentiments better known to the people who governed them. Mass Observations most important bequest is that it made ordinary people seeable, possibly for the first clip in postwar Britain.

This paper will dwell of two typical stages, the first portion will put Mass Observation into the context of life in late 1930 ‘s Britain and will overview the logical thinking and the activities of Mass Observation, it ‘s co-founders and voluntaries. The paper will besides discourse the mass observers themselves and the methods used to roll up the huge sum of informations from voluntaries as they sought to set up an anthropology of mundane British life through a assortment of elaborate undertakings which drew on a broad scope of original and imaginative methodological analysiss.

The 2nd portion of this paper will concentrate on the picture taking that Humphrey Spender created for Mass Observation and will supply a comprehensive analysis and overview of the Worktown and Holiday project between 1937 and 1939. British picture taking has had a long standing captivation with the lives and traditions of the on the job category community and this survey will concentrate on Humphrey Spenders images and their importance within the surveillance surveies of the Mass Observation undertaking.


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group

The demand to cognize

The Mass observation group was originated by Tom, Harrison an anthropologist, Humphrey Jennings a documental movie shaper and Charles Madge a poet and journalist who came together by happenstance. The groups laminitiss felt that the media at the clip depicted society as holding a wide consensus about the lives of ordinary working category people and the issues that they faced in day-to-day life, Mass Observation was assembled to prove this word picture of world.

‘As a consequence of the Abdication Crisis… we realised as ne’er before the sway of superstitious notion in thick of scientific discipline. How small we know of our following door neighbor and his wonts. Of conditions of life and idea in another category or territory our ignorance is complete. The anthropology of ourselves is still merely a dream ‘ . ( 1 )

These words were written by the carbon monoxide laminitiss in the first introductory booklet to the Mass Observation undertaking at it ‘s get downing in 1937. Mass Observations desire to document and give voice to the on the job category people of Britain resulted in the largest probe to the civilization of one state.

The New Statesman

Mass Observation was founded in 1937 three immature work forces and the consequence of a unusual happenstance. In January 1937, a long verse form written by Tom Harrison on the wonts of South Sea man-eaters was published in The New Statesman.

By opportunity on the same page was a missive written by Humphrey Jennings and Charles Madge denoting that a group of like minded people in Blackheath, London intended to get down an ‘anthropology of ourselves ‘ to research mundane life and the huge difference they believed to be held between public sentiment and what was frequently described as ‘public sentiment ‘ by the authorities and the imperativeness.

The three work forces correspond and on the 30th of January 1937 submitted another article to The New Statesman signed by Madge, Harrison and Jennings officially denoting the creative activity of Mass Observation.


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group


The missive written to The New Statesman announced the initiation of Mass Observation as an administration that aimed to look into day-to-day life in modern Britain the same manner as anthropologists were analyzing remote, tribal societies.

The article written by the three laminitiss of Mass Observation besides called for voluntaries to reach them and propose subjects for probe. The list of the groups earliest surveies suggests the vagueness of their initial construct, subjects ranged from serious affairs such as the behavior of people at war commemorations and anti-Semitism to the assorted suggested commonplace surveies of bathroom behavior, face funguss, axillas and superciliums and the cries and gestures from automobilists.

The article in The New Statesman called for a national panel to enter the every twenty-four hours concerns of their lives in which it was hoped, would expose the deceits that were used to stand for ‘public sentiment ‘ in the popular imperativeness and record peoples true feelings on non merely public personal businesss but the manner in which they lived and the universe around them.

The Abdication Crisis

Mass Observation was formed in the aftermath of the Abdication crisis, In the concluding months of 1936 the intelligence broke that Edward VIII the youthful and popular King had been forced by his household, his authorities and the church to renounce the throne instead than do a Queen of the American grass widow Wallis Simpson.

The matter between the the two had been kept out of the newspapers, so when the narrative came to visible radiation in the tally up to Christmas in 1936, it was a immense daze to about the whole of Britain. The at hand matrimony was considered by the Prime Minister a the clip Stanley Baldwin and other influential individuals to be unacceptable, officially on the evidences of her matrimonial position as a divorced adult female. But on the side on the evidences of her sensed character and nationality.

However may idealize Edward VIII and saw him as a victim of the unpopular Prime Minister and believed that the King was free to get married whom he likes.


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group


The British imperativeness, had ignored the ongoing relationship between the King and twice divorced American Wallis Simpson, since it ‘s really get downing. In late November 1936 the King invited the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to Buckingham Palace and told him of his purposes to get married. Two hebdomads subsequently on December the 1st the imperativeness broke it ‘s silence about the proposed matrimony and a immense populace contention loomed on the skyline. Ten yearss subsequently the King dictated an stepping down notice.

The division between the province and the monarchy provoked province of exigency. King George V had died less so one twelvemonth before the stepping down and now George VI the 3rd sovereign in 12 months. It was the populace ‘s strong reaction to this state of affairs that set the concatenation of events for Mass Observation.The confusion and the complexness of what the states ideas and feelings about stepping down crisis led chiefly to the foundation of the extremist research group.


On the 12th of December 1936 an article was published in The New Statesman, the article was written by Cambridge Schoolmaster Geoffrey Pyke which addresses his concerns about the national imperativeness and the deformations of the populace ‘s response to Edward VIII determination. He believed that the media and wireless were non stand foring the positions of ordinary people sufficiently, and that their ‘real ‘ sentiments of the state of affairs were unknown to the authorities, he wrote

‘How far the imperativeness reflected, and how far it evoked and moulded, public sentiment during the last 10 yearss it is impossible to state. Thousands of letters have poured into the offices of newspaper and other organisations from vague and high people likewise. It is most of import that these should be preserved and made accessible. Anthropologists and psychologists all over the universe are analyzing the reactions of crude folks to sexual state of affairss. There have been concentrated within the last 10 yearss the reactions of the people of the British Empire to a sexual state of affairs. Here is a comparatively limited signifier is some of the stuff for that anthropological survey of our ain civilisation of which we stand in such despairing needaˆ¦.It would look that the bulk of the dwellers of the Empire are unable to digest the image of a Queen – whose main map together with her Consort would be to be an object of adoration – who has antecedently been married to two work forces who are still alive. ‘ ( 2 )


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group

Mass Observations purposes

In it ‘s original pretense Mass Observation was an administration dedicated to the certification of mundane life amongst the on the job category. Its exclusive intent was to garner facts about day-to-day ideas, activities, wonts and conversations, so that they could raise consciousness about the lives of people who believed to be otherwise silenced.

A major factor actuating the early Mass Observers was their belief that as the desperate conditions that people were populating through during the 1930 ‘s wore on, the mean voice was being distorted by the turning power of authorities and the media and they were concerned that the authorities were non at all aware of the peoples wants, wants, demands, unfavorable judgments and aspirations.

This new administration commenced itself on the investigatory techniques of anthropology, psychological science and the scientific disciplines to analyze human behavior.

Surveillance and assemblage information

By the clip their article appeared in The New Statesman Mass Observation had already gained 50 voluntary ‘s and aspired to hold five 1000s ready to analyze such facets of modern-day life, including:

Bathroom Behaviour

Funerals and morticians


Distribution, diffusion and significance of the dirty gag

Beards, axillas and superciliums

Female tabu about eating

The information collected would enable the organizers to plot ‘weather maps of public feelings. ‘ The accent was on a true, detached, scientific observation of popular beliefs and attitudes so that popular sentiment could be better understood.


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group


Mass Observation used three chief research methods, the first comprised of voluntaries observing down what they saw and heard on a peculiar twenty-four hours and the 2nd relied upon voluntaries who were prepared to maintain in depth journals entering their ain behavior and feelings on the 12th twenty-four hours of each month every bit good as answering to specific questionnaires.

Covert surveillance was an effectual manner of roll uping huge sums of information, if merely because the persons were cognizant that they were being surveyed and this technique allowed them to be observed in a comparatively natural province.

Yet one time this method of covert surveillance had been publicised it began to do the general public paranoiac. Peoples became wary of the possibility of being watched.

6. The First Year

By their 30th of January proclamation the group already had 50 perceivers working on two sample jobs and within a few months they had recruited about four hundred work forces and adult females.

From the really get downing Mass Observation planned to hold two bases, the first being Charles Madge ‘s house at Blackheath and the other would be a little terraced house in Davenport Street, Bolton, Tom Harrison ‘s base. From these locations the groups carbon monoxide laminitiss would carry on two initial undertakings, Tom Harrison ‘s Worktown undertaking, his aggregation of facts through anon. observation in Bolton, While Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings at their base in London would construct up the bite of perceivers journals.

Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings recruited a choice of perceivers, subsequently known as the panel.

Their undertaking was to observe go throughing sentiments and overheard conversations in saloon, mills and on the street. They were asked to go to political and societal meetings, featuring and leisure activities and observed and interviewed their topics in the street and at work and enter their findings in great item.


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group

Madge and Jennings sent out questionnaires necessitating reactions to specific replies such as Did they prosecute in any sporting activities? What were the advantages of holding a royal household?


Alongside the unfastened ended questionnaires, Madge and Jennings requested that the volunteered perceivers kept a journal in which they were asked to enter the every twenty-four hours concerns in their lives, on the 12th twenty-four hours of each month, this included 12th May 1937 which was the Coronation Day of George VI.

‘7.15 am I rouse to happen myself chortling at the recollection of the droll description of assorted scenes from the movie and demo Okay for Sound. This was by two chaps in the small beer house where my hubby and ego have made a wont of run intoing on Saturday eventides on his manner place from B, to which he cycles every Sat afternoon to see his people. For the first clip I am moved to desire to see a Talkie movie. If it could cut down me to such a province of incapacitated laughter at a second-had description I feel certain it would be a tonic. ‘ ( 3 )

An estimated one million pages found their manner to the brand displacement offices in Blackheath. Some arrived on garbages of paper, some neatly typed but most were indecipherable.

Some perceivers wrote three pages a month some wrote more than 40, some merely commented on the conditions but some kept extremely elaborate diaries that contained every facet of their lives.


Directives was Mass Observation ‘s 3rd manner of roll uping informations, this needed less commitment than the journals and were random throughout the twelvemonth. During the period 1937 to 1945 a sum of 2847 persons replied to at least one directive. Each directive presented a set of unfastened ended inquiries on subjects every bit varied as faith, the film, nutrient and war clip Britain. This is an illustration of one adult female ‘s description of her vicinity.

‘I had n’t thought about it- I expect I am the poorest in the route, I have been the agency of acquiring


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group

two families- two immature couples- friends of mine to take a house each, down the road- there are merely eight my side and about six houses on the other- the route ends in a field, up which 1 goes to the diversion ground- my nephew and household besides live 20 proceedingss walk off.

They are all a really friendly batch in the route, Tho I merely am on really friendly footings with those two I ‘ve mentioned. I had to choke off my landlady who lives following door- she is really rich, really autocratic and really common- she tries to stamp and run me. She hob nobs with what I call yah yah adult females. ‘ ( 4 )


The bulk of the diary keepers were intelligent immature work forces and adult females and many were acute to travel beyond the bounds to supply information for Mass Observation. Most voluntary to work for Mass Observation because they wanted to be of some usage in the battle against fascism and the disregard of the ordinary people. The similar, Jennings, Madge and Harrison felt both a demand to cognize and a desire to do their voices heard.

The lower in-between category diary keepers portion certain common features. Few were in full clip instruction past the age of 16. Those who did travel to university returned tardily in life to the lower in-between category universe as school instructors.

Many had their childhoods interrupted by the crisis of the early portion of the century, a figure of male parents had been killed in the First World War and some households lost their nest eggs in the rising prices which followed the First World War.


Many of the diary keepers had jobs happening work in the 1930 ‘s and there are many histories of unemployment. The single diary keepers lived with their parents through their mid-twentiess.

The journals contain histories of the work of clerks, store helpers, draftsmans, school instructors and research lab technicians. Most complain of ennui, but one of the chief characteristics as written in


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group

the journals is how small work is done. Few started before half past nine, most took a mid forenoon java interruption outside the office or store, most took at least half an hr off for tiffin and many were doing their manner place by four 30, few stayed at work after five. This is in great contrast to the histories of the working category diary keepers who were at work by eight and did n’t go forth until after five.

The huge bulk of the diary keepers were honorable and ordinary people, they were profoundly worried about the coming of war and every bit early as spring 1937 some recounted dreams of being aught up in air foraies, while others debated as to whether they would travel and fight.

This activity produced the first full graduated table book by Mass Observation – May 12th, supplying reactions to the enthronement of George V and histories of what the panel thought about the state of affairs and the activities that they did on that twenty-four hours.

The book received a assorted response with Evelyn Waugh impeaching it of “ pseudo scientific showmanship ” .

Two more books co authored by Madge and Harrisson served to set up the repute of Mass Observation. These were Britain by Mass Observation, 1939, and War begins at Home, 1940.

7. Davenport Street

In contrast to the London wing of Mass Observation, Tom Harrisson ‘s base was little and dirty mid terraced house and his methods of working were really unlike that of Madge and Jennings.

Whilst Madge and Jennings remained in London organizing the authorship of the voluntary panel, Tom Harrison and a squad of perceivers began to analyze the life of the people in Bolton which would subsequently be know by the name Worktown. Harrison ‘s squad of perceivers in Bolton sought the fact and figures through covert surveillance, which highlighted the nature of the manner people in Bolton lived their lives.

The purpose was to understand Worktown by looking, listening and detecting, without inquiring any inquiries, ‘ We sought to to the full perforate the society we were analyzing, to populate in it as effectual members of it and to leach into every corner of every twenty-four hours and every dark of industrial life ‘ . ( 5 )


‘An Anthropology of Ourselves ‘ – Angstrom Study into the Work of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation Group

For the first 18 months at least, really few of the people populating in Bolton realised that they were being observed. Tom Harrison believed hat the invisibleness of the perceiver was a indispensable component of the whole operation.


Through his extraordinary enthusiasm Harrisson managed to pursed a assortment of people to fall in him while working in Bolton. In the spring of 1937, Humphrey Spender joined him as the official Mass Observation Photographer.

Harrisson recruited respondents who, by maintaining journals and finishing studies, would size up and log their ain behavior together with that of the people around them. Perceivers were expected to distance themselves from others in order to enter those occurrences that might otherwise escape notice as being uninterestingly ordinary.

At a ulterior day of the month the findings were so dispatched to the cardinal office of Madge and Jennings in Blackheath where they were edited to supply stuff for books depicting how British people behaved in their mundane environment.


The administration pursued a figure of avenues but the Worktown undertaking remain the most ambitious illustration of the Mass Observation method.

Harrisson felt that the perceivers must non hold prepossessions about what was interesting or uninteresting to detect, and merely to cite what seemed to be fresh or unexpected. There was to be no unnaturally imposed bound to this observation of Worktown. Everything that work forces, adult females and


kids should be recorded down to the last item. As a ego styled anthropologist who boasted of his ability to populate with those neither of his category or nationality, he argued that to analyze a group of people one had to populate with them and to be a participant perceiver, populating with them, imbibing with them and working with them. Harrisson believed that there should be no bounds whatsoever in 1s efforts to incorporate with the people he wished to analyze.

Self styled anthropologist

The ground why the gifted immature Tom Harrisson gained popular fame as the leader of Mass Observation was non due to the attractive eccentricity of his rational attack, but alternatively he used his natural gift, he was an divine organizer and highly talented publicizer and self publicizer, and a gifted author who wrote rapidly in an infinitely entertaining manner.

With an enthusiasm that some found infective he managed to carry the wealthy to give him money, newspaper editors gave him big sums of column infinite and the BBC manufacturers allowed him on air.

Harrisson ‘s attempts began to pay off and at the negotiations he gave in London, Oxford and Cambridge, authors, creative persons, pupils and others were so taken by his message that they volunteered for the administration. The figure of people on the national panel grew to many 100s within a few months while 15 full clip but unpaid perceivers assisted Harrison in Bolton.


Though Tom Harrisson wished his work in Bolton to be scientific his pick of behaviors to analyze seemed at times more reliant on his powers of intuition than any desire to study local life in a conventionally methodical manner. Giving his day-to-day orders from their base at Davenport Street he despatched his perceivers to describe on the contents of the local Sweet store windows or how many times one would tap the terminal of a coffin nail before illuming it.

Humphrey Jennings thought Harrisson ‘s attack was commonplace and tiered of his authoritarian nature


he left the motion shortly after the production of May 12th and went on to go one of the greatest documental movie shapers of the War period.

Charles Madge, who was about invariably in struggle with Harrison, felt forced to compromise and so the surrealist potency of Mass Observation was wholly neglected for the interest of more everyday surveies of mundane life.


In the first two books that Harrisson and Madge edited together, First Year ‘s Work ( 1938 ) and Britain ( 1939 ) , Madge discussed the consequences of work on subjects such as smoke as a societal wont, the Munich Crisis and the two minute silence on Armistice Day, while Harrison dealt with topics such as saloon traveling, a local festival in a Lancashire small town and leisure clip in Blackpool.

Their new expression worked and First Year ‘s Work ( 1938 ) reached a broad populace, while over 100,000 transcripts of Britain ( 1939 ) were sold within 10 yearss of publication. Mass Observation it seemed had struck a popular chord.

The reaction of educated categories was widespread and assorted. Writers for a figure of newspapers and magazines regarded it positively as potentially the most enlightening attack tot he further apprehension of British life.

Several newspapers nevertheless portrayed Mass Observation as a new kind of amusement or game, after all Madge and Harrison declared it as something anybody could make. Some were less diverted and viewed Mass Observation with dismay and as an invasion on their right to privateness. These critics labelled the perceivers as snoopers, nosy Parkers and peeping Toms.

Humphrey Spender

Between 1937 and 1938 Humphrey Spender took over nine 100 exposures of Bolton at the petition of Tom Harrison.

Mass Observation described it ‘s observes as ‘the cameras with which we are all seeking to snap ‘ ( 6 ) but photography itself merely played a little but important function in the undertaking.


Although highly important to the undertaking Humphrey Spender was merely able to pass short periods of clip on the undertaking and really small movie was shot. The work that he contributed to Mass Observation remained virtually unknown for about 40 old ages until the publication of Britain in the Thirties ( 1975 ) .

Humphrey Spender ‘s memories of his work in Bolton revolve around the demand for eternal forbearance and waiting for something to go on, waiting specifically for a important minute which could be recorded through the camera. The duty to be the unobserved perceiver and to concentrate on group activities excluded the possibility of traveling into houses or of puting up scenes, and he spent many yearss and long periods of clip entirely.

His embarrassment at being the ‘candid camera ‘ and his deficiency of satisfaction with the quality of the image were frequently responsible for his leting of the decisive minute to go through without entering it. Mass Observations policy was to mostly do it ‘s unpaid surveyors unobserved and this included Humphrey Spender who undertook the sustained candid picture taking undertaking and agreed to study the people of Bolton in a sustained candid picture taking undertaking. Spender found that he was invariably holding to get by with non merely the troubles of being unseen but besides the moralss of picture taking without the topics cognition.

In maintaining with his character, Spender did n’t work his topics, but searched for a familiar designation, an empathy with them that allowed himself as a lensman to hit them honestly.


Several towns and metropoliss in the Northwest of England became comfortable during the late 1700 ‘s and early 1800 ‘s, as a consequence of covering with slave grown green goods.

The urbanization and development of Bolton mostly coincided with the debut of fabric fabrication during the industrial revolution. At it ‘s peak the town boasted 216 cotton factory and 26 bleaching and deceasing plants.

Bolton became a booming fabrication town at the bend of the century and this growing was due to it ‘s extended engagement in the processing of cotton. It ‘s cotton Millss, and bleaching and drying plants had made it a universe Centre for bring forthing cotton alongside Bradford.

Investors in the processing of cotton exploited Bolton ‘s geographical advantages to develop cotton Millss in the town for imported slave grown cotton. Bolton had a good sauce of natural free fluxing H2O in which the cotton industries utilised to power their Millss and rinse the cotton.

By 1911 the fabric industry in Bolton employed around 36, 000 people, the cotton industry flourished throughout the 19th century and the coming of railroads brought even more trade and people to the metropolis.

Recruits in the industry may hold been plentiful but the conditions were rough. Workers faced smothering temperatures, air midst with dust and really long on the job hours.

At it ‘s peak workers moved from the countryside to the industrial town to seek better paid employment in the Millss. But better wage did n’t ever ensue in better life conditions, the high demand for houses in the town resulted in ailing built back to endorse terraced lodging, tenements and cellar homes.


In the early 1930 ‘s Britain ‘s economic system was struck by depression and employment Numberss began to radically drop. The first World War had a serious consequence on cotton industry and signalled the start of a fleet diminution of the industry in Northern England.

The economic slack of the mid-twentiess and mid-thirtiess led to big sums of unemployment and the prostration of many houses. Attempts were made to resuscitate the industry through new machinery and the debut of new fabric, nevertheless competition from abroad and and the usage of adult male made fibers intend a farther diminution.