There’s a smell in Battersea, south-west London. Today, there are streams of the internet devoted to a whiff of toast commuters notice on the train over the river. It’s something to do with local coffee roasters, apparently. But in the early 1970s, the area was very different economically, and the stink wasn’t nearly so pleasant. The strong stench – described at the time as “like dead bodies” – was colloquially known as “The Battersea Smell”.
There was various speculation about causes. Most likely was that the stench came from one or two local factories – the gin distillers John Watney and Co and the glucose manufacturers Garton Sons and Co. But no one really knew. Moreover, the local council seemed to be actively avoiding trying to find out, and avoiding attempting to do much about it.
As a local paper at the time noted, “We can get to the moon, phone relatives in Australia, perform miracles of surgery but a simple matter like getting rid of a smell seems to baffle everyone.”
Residents were especially annoyed as the local council insisted they use (expensive) smokeless fuel to cut air pollution yet seemed to do nothing about the stink.… Read the rest