12th May 2024 by

Mass Observation Day

On 12 May, the Mass Observation Archive will be repeating its annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK. The written diaries will be stored in the Archive at The Keep in Brighton and be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning.

In 1937 Mass Observation called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night on 12 May. This was the day of George VI’s Coronation. The resulting diaries provide a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain and have become an invaluable resource for those researching countless aspects of the era.


Started by three former Cambridge students – anthropologist, Tom Harrisson, poet Charles Madge and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings – the project ran until the mid-60s and was then revived in 1981 at the University of Sussex and is today housed at the Keep (a world-class centre for archives) at the University of Sussex.

It originally aimed to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of around 500 untrained volunteer observers who either maintained diaries or replied to open-ended questionnaires (known as directives).

Nella with her younger son, Clifford, who went on to become a famous sculptor

Nella Last was an English housewife who lived in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire. She wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Archive from 1939 until 1966, making it one of the most substantial diaries held by Mass Observation. Her diary, consisting of around 12 million words, is one of the longest in the English language. The wartime diaries were dramatised by Victoria Wood for ITV in 2006 as Housewife 49, which is how Nella headed her first entry at the age of 49. Wood played the lead role.

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