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Cotton Queens

Worktown Cotton Queens:  A skills development project for Bolton women in the third age 

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© Bolton Council.  From the Collection of Bolton Library and Museum Services 

The ‘Cotton Queens’ are members of a women’s community project, run jointly by Bolton at Home and the Centre for Worktown Studies, University of Bolton, with funding from Ambition for Ageing Culture Champions Greater Manchester. The aims of the project are for women to develop their skills, confidence and wellbeing by engaging with cultural and historical aspects of the Bolton area and its community. The women have researched the lives of mill girls by examining Mass Observation’s Worktown Collection (1937-1940).


The archives provide an insight into the experiences of mill girls at work and on holiday in Blackpool. The Cotton Queens have used their research to write their own poems and audio play, create journals that reflect on their individual learning experiences and produce a documentary. The project leads, Kathryn Thomasson and Sandra Nichol, maintain that the project has been very rewarding for everyone, and that it has led not only to the development of new skills, but the creation of ‘a real sense of place’ and belonging to Bolton and its communities. Participation in this project has resulted in new friendships between Worktown Women, past and present. 

Spinning Tales – A celebration of Worktown by 21st Century Cotton Queens, tells the story of the Cotton Queens’ journey through personal biography and photography.  Group members provide an insight into how taking part in the project has improved their knowledge of the work and leisure lives of working-class women in Bolton in the 1930s. 

The book depicts the Cotton Queens enjoying trips to the ‘Glamorous Grafters Exhibition’ at Leeds Industrial Museum and Blackpool, their enjoyment of guest lectures by Professor Bob Snape, John McGoldrick and

Matthew Watson as well as visits to the Bolton and Blackpool History Centres.  The women also took part

in creative writing sessions provided by Eileen Earnshaw and drama classes under the tutelage of

Brid Andrews. The book contains text of their audio play. 

Download the book here - 

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© Bolton Council.  From the Collection of Bolton Library and Museum Services 

WorkTown Wakes Girls by 21st Century Cotton Queens 

On a Wakes week trip from Bolton to Blackpool in the late 1930s, two young cotton mill workers, Flo and Alice, meet Charles a young middle-class man with something to hide. With Alice 'smitten' and Flo's eyes narrowing suspiciously, can he keep his secret and his assumptions intact, or will a chippy supper be his undoing?  

The inspiration for ‘Worktown Wakes Girls’ comes from researching Mass Observation’s Worktown Collection, (1937-1940).


The archives reveal how mass observers descended on Blackpool during the summer of the late 1930s to record the holiday habits of Worktowners. The Cotton Queens read about encounters on the Promenade, in the pubs and in the chippy, and decided to write a play based on the records from their own perspective. This humorous play provides its own account of the ending to an encounter between a mass observer and two mill girls on holiday in Blackpool. 

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The Cotton Queens’ Journey 

This short documentary (below) follows the Cotton Queens on a trip to Blackpool that the audience is invited to watch. The group visit the History Centre at Blackpool, have lunch at a chippy, dance in the Tower Ballroom, play the slot machines and stroll along Blackpool’s windy promenade, remembering the time when Mass Observation and Worktown women came to Holidaytown.  

Thank you to Ambition for Ageing Culture Champions GM and Bolton at Home for providing funding for the project and to Paul Salveson for use of the community room facilities at Platform Five at Bolton Station. 


Thank you to Bolton Library and Museum Services for permission to use photographs from the Humphrey Spender Collection. Thanks also to the Trustees of the Mass Observation Archive and Adam Matthew Digital for allowing us to quote archive material from the Worktown Collection

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