I'm not knocking the authors - both working class grammar school kids themselves, their essential decency and sincerity is obvious. And it's a rattling good read.
But what would strike the modern reader is the different world they - and the working class - inhabited. Written just before the cultural revolution, it's a reminder of what has been lost.
Here's some of an early chapter on the town where they did their research (which is available online here). To anyone who knows Huddersfield as it is now - let's just say it's changed :
Huddersfield is a rich city. It claims to have more Rolls-Royces per head than any other - place on earth. Its unemployment problem is slight, and prosperity has flowed here in easy tides since the 1930s. It enjoys a protective variety of industries, being neither an engineering centre, nor a woollen city, nor a cotton town, nor a brewing capital. It is all these at once, and much more besides. Such distribution of work and wealth guards it from the lesser trade cycles that trouble neighbouring cities. It has its poor, its aged, its crippled, its sick, its unlucky; but these are not easily seen, and their presence, if not forgotten, is obscured by the general buoyancy.
The city has a population of 130,000. In 1800 it was just touching 7,000 - for Huddersfield is one of the new cities of England, the cities bred out of the industrial revolution. Its population spiral follows Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham. By 1820 that 7,000 had nearly doubled into 13,000; by 1840 it had almost doubled again to 25,000. By 1890 it had leapt to over 90,000. The railway had arrived; and after the great new railway station came the city's major public buildings - the new parish church, the post office of 1875, the town hall of 1879. The local historians trace all this back to the medieval hamlet, or the Roman station. They point to Brigantine settlements on the surrounding hillsides, or Saxon ruins along one of the far valleys. They drag up shields and coats of arms, and all the rich drapery of the medieval past. But Huddersfield as a society has no such history. The Romans and the Normans merely travelled over the same stretch of earth, and handed nothing down. Huddersfield begins with the industrial revolution.
It sucked in the population of the surrounding countryside, and with them something of their culture. But the `culture' of Huddersfield is the submerged culture of the industrial working class. It is now settled and stylized into a pattern of living, but it was bred in the long working hours of the mills, the rapid spread of overcrowded streets, the tangles of the master-man relationship, the personal cycle of poverty (childhood/marriage/ age) crossing the national waves of work or hunger. Such a style of living, and fashioned by such conditions, radiates today from the close centres of family life into that whole web of ties -kinship, friendship, the shared childhood or working life, the formal groupings of club, band, choir, union, chapel - all the many strands of 'neighbourhood' that reach out to attain 'community' (my emboldening - LT). The expectations, dues, refusals, irritations, rights and assurances that family and neighbourhood arouse and inherit play all through this report. For the working-class culture of Huddersfield (an area with over 70 working men's clubs) is by no means the same as the national middle-class culture, some of whose facets are reflected back by the wireless, the press, the very books in the public library. We are not concerned to choose or judge between the two cultures, merely to remark the difference. For it is a question of difference, and this report finds itself continually dipping into discussion or conflict where well-meaning people on both sides are fighting out battles between 'us' and 'them'.
Huddersfield has its prosperous middle class. Or, rather, it has two middle classes. The first is national, metropolitan in interest, mobile, privately educated. Such are the senior civil servants, doctors, executives, who stay a while and pass through the city; or who belong as natives here, but 'belong' elsewhere too. And then there is that other middle class, very local and rooted, of the self-made businessmen, works officials, schoolmasters clinging to their home town. Such a class is part of 'them' but in some situations can merge for a while with 'us'. This native, rather than national, middle class has been there from earliest days; drawing its money from the work of the men, but nonetheless close to them. There is a report by a hand-loom commissioner of 1839 that `. . . the men of Huddersfield were constantly in their mills and taking their meals at the same hours as their workpeople, but the clothiers of Gloucester were indulging in the habits and mixing with the gentle blood of the land'. It is just this native middle class we present here...
We will not here describe the details of the city's streets and homes; such as matter will emerge as the survey gathers way. But the city's confidence in terms of work, of money, of pleasure, can be caught in a rapid glance. It is the confidence of the new industrial town after twenty years without recession.