The Mass Observation movement was founded by a group of 1930s’ British intellectuals who believed the most revealing way to document an event was to document the peripheral activities surrounding it. The Mass Observers carried out their greatest project on May 12th, 1937, when they dispatched more than 200 observers throughout London to monitor the coronation of King George VI. Here are the notes of an observer in Central London:
11:45 p.m. (May 11th) Euston full of people staying the night on waiting-room benches. Refreshment room and Enquiry Hall full. In waiting room drunk man knocks chair over, sits on floor, policeman says, ‘Hey, sit up,’ but leaves him to lie there. Man drinking beer and eating sandwiches in a telephone box.
Or later, during the coronation parade:
9:45 a.m. Some scavengers removed dung. People tittered. A group of seventeen-year-old boys gossiped about Princess Juliana: ‘When I was in Paris she was there. Everyone liked her.’ They criticized the ugly decorations of Selfridge’s and other buildings, and discussed their careers. The crowd seemed apathetic, and I felt so too.
Minor details, but stitched together they are fascinating—especially considering the significance of the day. The Mass Observers restricted their observations to London.
Please note that though we have taken inspiration from their original concept, we are not officially associated with the Mass Observation Archive. They can be found at http://www.massobs.org.uk