Bolton’s Mass-Observers made a mass trip to Blackpool to observe during the September 1937 holiday week. The mills of Bolton would close for a week at a time so workers came to the town alongside their workmates to enjoy the ‘Paris of the North’. The Northern mill towns staggered their holidays so that the cotton industry did not grind to a halt, and Blackpool had enough beds to cope with demand. Increases in leisure time allowed the working classes to enjoy holidays for the first time, although for many the enforced mill closure weeks meant simply a depressing struggle to make one week’s wage feed a family for two weeks.
Humphrey Spender photographed the Blackpool illuminations during the trip. His images of these glowing fairytale figures contrast starkly with his photographs of day to day life in Bolton. They show how Blackpool constructed itself as a dream destination, removed from everyday reality.
British Pathé have a great archive clip on their website which brings the illuminations Spender photographed to life. Mass-Observation, like their reporter, was also concerned with what was going on in the beachside shadows. After an extensive two week observation M-O concluded that sexual activity in public areas in Blackpool went no further than kissing, and copping a bit of a feel. The idea of Blackpool as a Sodom or Gommorah of sordid northern morality was a media construct, and as much of a fairytale as the illuminations.