Oral History: Mike Kelly
It was an extraordinary cocktail of industrial pollutants of various kinds in the atmosphere, and sewage. And it was a smell that varied, of course, according to whether the factories were working and what the tide was doing, but it was ubiquitous really, particularly as you got close to the River. Not so bad if you were a few hundred yards away, but close to the River it was pretty foul.
Professor Mike Kelly is an academic and researcher of public health. He remembers life growing up in Barking in the 1950s and 1960s, playing football as a child amongst the ‘choking’ air pollution which he later went on to study academically at university. He comes from generations of lightermen, sharing memories of his father and grandfather working along the river, their cargo and the tight-knit community in Barking.
He remembers Barking’s factories and their smells including Masters Matches, William Warne Rubber Works and The Self-Opening Tin Box Company. He describes his unusual interest in public health as a child, his first-hand experience of asbestos in Barking and a smelly summer spent working as a binman. And how growing up working class Barking prepared him and compared to university life.