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Mass Observation, 1937-1950s

The Archive holds the papers generated by the original Mass Observation organisation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s as well as some documents from the 1960s. The material collected by Mass Observation falls into two main categories:


  • Personal writing: A national panel of volunteer writers were recruited to reply to regular questionnaires and tasks, including writing diaries.

  • Topic collections: A team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations and recorded people's behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. This was first conducted in Bolton (known as Worktown) and then in other locations across the country.


The diagram on the right shows how the raw material collected by Mass Observation was summarised in a series of File Reports and formed the basis of a number of books.

Overview of collections and quick links to catalogues

Expand the sections below to find out more about the documents in the Archive and to be directed to The Keep’s catalogue. Find out more about visiting the Archive here

Books & File Reports

The Mass Observation Books 

The material gathered by Mass Observation formed the basis for books published between 1937 and 1950.

  • 1937 Mass Observation by Madge, C. & Harrisson, T.H., London: Frederick Muller Ltd.
  • 1937 May the Twelfth: Mass Observation Day Surveys by Jennings, H. & Madge, C. with Beachcroft, T.O., Blackburn, J., Empson, W., Legg, S. & Raine, K.London: Faber & Faber.
  • 1938 First Year's Work by Madge, C. & Harrisson, T.H., London: Lindsay Drummond.
  • 1939 Britain by Mass Observation by Madge, C. & Harrisson, T.H., Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • 1940 War Begins at Home by Madge, C. & Harrisson, T.H., London: Chatto & Windus.
  • 1941 Clothes Rationing Survey by Mass Observation, London: Advertising Service Guild Bulletin, Change No 1.
  • 1941 Home Propaganda by Mass Observation, London: ASG Bulletin, Change No 2.
  • 1941 A Savings Survey by Mass Observation, London: ASG Bulletin, Change No 3.
  • 1942 People in Production: An Enquiry into British War Production by Mass Observation, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • 1943 War Factory by Mass Observation, London: Gollancz.
  • 1943 People’s Homes by Mass Observation, London: ASG Bulletin, Change No 4.
  • 1943 The Pub and the People: A Worktown Study by Mass Observation, London: Gollancz.
  • 1944 The Journey Home by Mass Observation, London: ASG.
  • 1945 Britain and her Birth-rate by Mass Observation, London: Gollancz
  • 1947 Puzzled People: A Study in Popular Attitudes to Religion, Ethics, Progress & Politics in a London Borough by Mass Observation, London: Gollancz.
  • 1947 Browns of Chester: Portrait of a Shop 1780-1946 by Willcock, H.D., London: Lindsay Drummond.
  • 1947 Exmoor Village by Turner, W.J., London: George Harrap & Co.
  • 1947 Peace and the Public: A Study by Mass Observation, London: Longmans.
  • 1948 Juvenile Delinquency by Willcock, H.D., London: Falcon Press.
  • 1949 The Press and its Readers by Mass Observation, London: Art & Technics Ltd.
  • 1949 Meet Yourself on Sunday by Mass Observation, London: Naldrett Press.
  • 1949 Meet Yourself at the Doctor's by Mass Observation, London: Naldrett Press.
  • 1949 People and Paint by Mass Observation, London: ICI Publications.
  • 1950 Voters' Choice by Mass Observation, London: Art & Technics Ltd.

Publications produced from 1950-70 Two books appeared between the formation of Mass Observation (UK) Ltd in 1949 and the establishment of the archive at the University of Sussex in 1970. These were:

  • 1961 Britain Revisited by Harrisson, T.H. with England, L., Fremlin, C., Naughton, B., Spender, H., Sommerfield, J., Tarrant, M., Trevelyan, J. & Wyatt, W., London: Gollancz.
  • 1966 Long to Reign Over Us by Harris, L.M., London: William Kimber. 

These books can be accessed in the Reference Room at The Keep or on Mass Observation Online. A number of them can be purchased through Faber Finds.

File Reports  

The information collected in these two ways was fed into a series of over 3,000 typed 'file reports' written by Mass Observation staff. These top-level summaries provide a good starting-point for any research and they cover a variety of subjects. You can search through the File Report Series on The Keep website.

Personal writing

Diaries, 1939-65 

About 500 men and women kept personal diaries which they sent to Mass Observation in monthly instalments.  See the catalogue for more information . 

Day Surveys, 1937-38 

One day diaries written by people from all over Britain who volunteered to be members of MO's national "panel" of observers. See the catalogue for more information. From time to time these day diaries included special tasks such as the June 1937 survey on mantelpieces and a survey of Kew Gardens.

Directive replies, 1937-1955

Answers from members of the national panel to the regular Mass OBservation "Directive" or open-ended questionnaire on a variety of subjects including personal issues. See the catalogue for more information.

Worktown and the Topic Collections 


The Mass Observation study of Bolton and Blackpool 1937-40, known as the Worktown Project. You can browse the catalogue here. The collection also contains a series of photographers taken by Humphrey Spender. You can view a selection of Spender's photographers online.

Topic Collections, 1937-1960

The raw material collected by the paid investigators arranged by theme or title of study into a series of over 80 topics, including: Housing, Music, Dancing and Jazz and Air RaidsSee the catalogue.