Everyday Smells in Barking

Soap illustration by Monteagle Primary School year 4 children

What smells can you remember from the streets where you grew up? Are there particular smells that transport you back to favourite places you knew as a child or your past homes? Smell has the ability to allow us to time travel back to moments forgotten, a whiff of an odour instantly unlocking past memories of people and place.

What did everyday life smell like for the people living in Barking over 150 years? How did living alongside the various industries and factories affect local communities? We wanted to explore the more pleasant remembered smells as part of the scented environment and memory landscape, as well as the more negative smells that existed.

From food and cooking smells, to the fondly remembered scents of malt and brewing, pub smells to family members’ perfumes. Washing laundry to smog and fog in the air. We wanted to explore personal memories to contribute to what Barking smelt and felt like since 1850.

As well as market gardening, fishing and factories, there were other trades and products we have not yet explored in this archive. Pickling, sauces, soap and malt production each brought with them strong scents that locals recall.

Surprisingly, even the sweetest of products such as sweets and popcorn manufactured in Barking and Dagenham don’t always have positive memories attached to them, as people remember the processes and the sheer strength of smells associated with their manufacturing.

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