The Capitol, Bolton (uploaded by terry) Creative Commons (Attribution) Licence, via

Greater Manchester in the North West of England was an important centre of the textile industry up till the 1970s, and during the 1930s was home to many cinemas, old and new. CCINTB fieldwork in the Greater Manchester conurbation took in the cotton textile manufacturing town of Bolton, Lancashire, which boasted more than twenty cinemas in the interwar years and was the location of Mass Observation’s 1930s ‘Worktown’ studies.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Mass Observation–an initiative dedicated to observing and understanding ‘ordinary’ people’s daily lives–instigated a series of ethnographic studies across Britain, with data gathered on the ground by an army of mostly volunteer observers. Launched early in 1937, Mass Observation’s opening venture took place in Bolton (named ‘Worktown’ in MO’s publications). The mission was to document the townspeople’s everyday lives, including their leisure pursuits–cinemagoing (‘The role of the films in the life of a modern industrial community’) being foremost among these.[1] The all-encompassing inquiry was planned to embrace cinema buildings–decor, pricing, programmes, and so on; films, release dates, censorship, etc; the public’s responses to specific films and programmes; films in schools; the place of cinemagoing in local leisure patterns.[2] In April 1938, five hundred or more patrons of the town’s newly-opened Odeon cinema answered a Mass Observation questionnaire about their film preferences.[3]

All of our eleven Bolton interviewees were contacted directly or indirectly via the town’s thriving scene of writing groups and local history workshops and societies. This resulted in several group interviews as well as couple and solo interviews. For information about the interviewees, and for access to audio and transcripts of their interviews, click on the names in the list. To see locations and photographs of many of the Bolton cinemas mentioned in the interviews, visit the ‘Interactive Map’ link below.


Bolton Memorabilia and Links

Bolton Audio Tour
Interactive Map of Bolton Cinemas
Listing of Bolton cinemas
CMDA Bolton Screening Event
Kathleen Southworth’s Diaries
Donated photographs, adverts and reminiscence prompts
Writings by Bolton interviewees
‘The golden age of Bolton’s Cinemas’ ( website)
‘Cinema on every street corner’ ( website)

Publications related to 1930s cinemagoing in Bolton:
Barron, H. & Langhamer, C. (2021) Class of ’37: Voices from Working-class Childhood (ch. 3). London: Metro Publishing.
Halliwell, L. (1985). Seats in All Parts: Half a Lifetime at the Movies. London, Granada Publishing Ltd.
Jones, J. (2019). ‘These Intimate Little Places’: Cinema-Going and Public Emotion in Bolton, 1930-1954, Cultural and Social History, 16:4, 451-466, DOI: 10.1080/14780038.2019.1609801
Richards, J. (1994). Cinemagoing in Worktown: regional film audiences in 1930s Britain, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 14:2, 147-166, DOI: 10.1080/01439689400260131
Sedgwick, J. (2000). Popular films and their stars in Bolton (Worktown), Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain; A Choice of Pleasures. Exeter, University of Exeter Press.
Swain, D. P. (2014). The Golden-age of Cinema-going in Bolton. Worktown Publications.

Publication related to the Mass Observation Project (and see ‘Notes’ below):
MacGregor, S. (2021). The Pub and the People. A Worktown Study by Mass Observation. Addiction, 116(2), 407-411.


[1] Worktown: The Astonishing Story of the Project that launched Mass Observation. Worktown: The Astonishing Story of the Project that launched Mass Observation
[2] Records from the Worktown study are held in the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex (Worktown and also in Bolton: Bolton Worktown | Photographs and archives from the Bolton Mass Observation project
[3] ‘Part I: Cinema-going in Worktown’, Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan, eds. 1987. Mass-Observation at the Movies. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987), 19-136.