Where are they now? University researchers hunt for the ‘Newson Children’ of 1950's Nottingham

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Psychologists from the University of Nottingham are appealing for people to come forward who may have taken part in pioneering research into child development in Nottingham City from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In a new project called Growing Up in Nottingham – Then and Now, the experts from the School of Psychology are trying to trace children who were born in Nottingham between July 1957 and August 1961, or their parents, who may have taken part in interviews about domestic life in inner city Nottingham and attitudes to child-rearing.

They are asking if people who were born between these dates can remember their mothers being interviewed at home or remember being interviewed themselves – at home or at school – when they were teenagers by researchers from the University.

The Guardian, April 1968

Back in 1958, Professors John and Elizabeth Newson set about collecting data on 700 children born across the city, from Bulwell to Clifton, Carlton to Wollaton. They led a team of psychologists who interviewed mothers of 12-month-old babies and revisited them when the children were 4, 7, 11, 16 and 19 years old. They gathered vast quantities of information on child-rearing practices and explored emotional and social aspects of the children’s lives as they developed.


The original questionnaires and identities of the families were destroyed for data protection purposes, but the statistical data generated by the study survives and the research is also documented in a series of well-respected books on childrearing. The most recent was published last year - Childhood into Adolescence: growing up in the 1970s. The manuscript of this book was discovered after the Newsons’ deaths in 2010 and 2014.

Newson book 2018

Two University of Nottingham academics, who were themselves taught by the Newsons, are trying to trace the ‘Newson children' – who will now be in their early 60s – to find out what happened to them. Drs Claire Lawrence and Eamonn Ferguson would like to bring some of the families together for a special event at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham on Saturday 2nd of November 2019.

Claire said: “When we look at the questions families were asked over 60 years ago, it is striking to see how resonant they are with concerns parents have today. We see answers to questions including: When and why do parents decide to breast or bottle feed? How do parents respond to their own parents’ childrearing advice? What do parents do if they do not approve of their children’s friends? All these conversations are set within a context of a Nottingham which is very different to the Nottingham of today.”

Eamonn added: “The Newsons’ work was, and still is revolutionary, examining in depth how children growing up, sometimes in quite difficult conditions, developed intellectually and emotionally They provided unique insights that still have a real contemporary relevance given the high levels of childhood poverty today. Meeting those who took part to get their recollections and celebrate their input will bring this work up to date and hopefully open up new understanding and exploration of contemporary life in Nottingham.”

John and Elizabeth Newson founded the Child Development Research Unit at the University of Nottingham in 1967. Their work focused on childhood and child-rearing, with a particular interest in toys and learning through play, as well as the needs of children with conditions such as autism.

In his workshop, John Newson would make wooden toys which later became the inspiration for the famous Early Learning Centre educational toy shops set up by John Beal in 1972, after Newson was hired as a consultant child psychologist by Beal on his new venture. 

The Newsons’ niece, Professor Carrie Paechter, carries on the Newson family tradition and is Director of the Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families at Nottingham Trent University. 

Carrie said: “I am delighted that further work is now possible from the Newson data. The study was pioneering at the time, particularly in asking ordinary families about how they raised their children. The books provide a fascinating insight into Nottingham families over a sixteen-year period, and the methods used to collect the data are still relevant today.”

Peter Barnes, who worked with the Newsons as a Research Officer, said: “Together with Dr Susan Gregory, I have recently had the privilege of editing the Newsons’ book about the 11-year-old children – Childhood into Adolescence: growing up in the 1970s, published in 2018. Though written in the early 1980s, the issues it raises about child rearing are as fresh and relevant today as they were then. It is exciting to think that these will be looked at again and similarities and differences explored.”  

Back yards in St Ann's, pre-demolition © Angie Miles

The living conditions in some of the areas in Nottingham at the time of the Newsons’ study were featured in a Stephen Frears documentary for ITV which was broadcast 50 years ago in 1969. The programme revealed families living in ‘damp, cold and unsanitary’ council houses where the ‘proud, hard-working parents’ struggled to bring up their children on incomes below the poverty line. Frears interviewed University of Nottingham sociologist Bill Stillburn and well-known Labour politician Ken Coates who was also a special professor at the university. 

People who think they or their families were involved in the Newson’s research can contact either Eamonn Ferguson via or Claire Lawrence  

Tickets for the free event at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham are available here:

Images of family life in inner city Nottingham circa 1960 courtesy of Rex Coker, Mary Lane, Angie Miles and Christine Morrison, members of the St Ann's Well Road, Pre-demolition, Facebook Group

Story credits

More information is available from and or Emma Rayner, Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Arts in the Press Office at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 748

Emma Rayner - Media Relations Manager, Faculty of Arts
Phone: 0115 748 4413

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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