A new Centre for Worktown Studies, dedicated to promoting and developing research into the famous Humphrey Spender archive of 1930s Mass Observation photographs, has been launched by the University of Bolton and Bolton Museum.
A Memorandum of Understanding, which commits the two organisations to establishing the centre, was signed by Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Peter Marsh and Head of Service for Bolton Library, Museum and Archive Service, Julie Spencer, on Friday 4 September 2009.
The Spender archive of photographs is regarded internationally as one of the most important archives in the development of British documentary photography.
In the late 1930s Mass Observation established a base in Bolton, which it named Worktown, to record the everyday lives of people in a northern industrial town.
The documentary photographer Humphrey Spender, a member of the Mass Observation team, took several hundred photographs of Boltonians. From cheering on Bolton Wanderers to drinking in pubs to shopping on Bolton Market, he captured everyday life. He even followed them to Blackpool on their holidays.
Bolton Museum displays a permanent exhibition of photographs from the Spender collection in its recently opened Worktown Gallery.
Already a photography scholarship has been established by the university. Funded by the Marriott Trust, which was donated to the university by Bolton Le Moors Rotary Club, the scholarship funds a north west postgraduate student to produce a series of images based on the Humphrey Spender Worktown Archive at Bolton Museum and Art Gallery.
The Spender archive has also been the subject of two highly successful leisure history conferences run by the university in association with the museum. Next year’s conference will focus on holidays.
University of Bolton Reader in Leisure and Sport, Dr Bob Snape, who pioneered the annual conference, said: “This Centre will enable the university and museum to work together to promote the Spender Worktown collection for research purposes and will help to attract funding for research.
“It will support historians and photographers in their use of the Spender Worktown collection for their research.”
The partnership established by the university and museum has already been highlighted as a case study of collaborative good practice by the Joint Consultancy Research Project, commissioned by Renaissance North West, Arts Council England North West and the North West Universities Association.
Councillor Elaine Sherrington, Executive Member for Adult Services at Bolton Council, said: “The Humphrey Spender Worktown exhibition is a marvellous account of Bolton, and I think that the decision to provide the scholarship to produce photographs based on the idea is a really good one.
“The centre will help the museum and the university to work together, and take the collection to an even bigger audience.”