Our knowledge of the past is odourless. Yet, smells play an important role in our daily lives; they affect us emotionally, psychologically and physically, and influence the way we engage with history.
Cecilia Bembibre, UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage​​

What we can we learn about the past through our sense of smell? The Barking Stink is a scented history of Barking Creek and the industries that existed alongside it. Discover the layers of smells and stenches that tell the story of Barking's rich industrial past. From the fragrance of thriving fisheries to the stench of the sewage works, manure to match makers, and fertiliser fumes to fizzy pop factories. Explore over 200 years of heritage stories via your sense of smell.

Our innovative heritage project explores and records what Barking’s riverside felt and smelt like throughout the Victorian industrial era and into contemporary factory and domestic life. We have learnt a lot about the potential of scent to how scent helps share stories and brings history to life for children, young people and adults. Whilst you may not be able to smell the bespoke aromas we created for the project, you can learn about the stories and imagine the scents for yourself by listening to our recorded interviews and podcasts and watching our animated films.

As Barking & Dagenham’s waterfront is being transformed, so the memory of its industrial vibrancy, including the pungent smells that reputedly once emanated on and around Barking Creek, is being lost.

Students build Barking for the animated videos

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People reading information columns on the South Bank
Photo: Gabor Gergley

The Barking Stink is a heritage project produced by Thames Festival Trust, in partnership with Valence House Museum and Archives in Barking and Dagenham. From May 2019 to December 2019, the project included pop-up exhibitions with scents to smell, school workshops, animated film resources for teachers, oral histories, podcasts and a programme of talks, walks and workshops. The project research was made possible thanks to the participation of 20 volunteers and oral history interviewees who shared their memories with us.

Photo: Gabor Gergley
I have a very vivid memory of the Lawes chimneys belching out what was like a yellowy coloured smoke. The smell, it hit your throat and your tongue. It was absolutely awful. It made your throat raw and very sore. I didn’t know what it was at the time. It was like rotten eggs.
Maria Williams, Creekmouth Village Resident, Barking

Everyday Smells in Barking

What smells can you remember from the streets where you grew up?

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Booming Barking: Industries in Barking

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Market Gardening & Manure

Throughout the nineteenth century, Barking’s main industry alongside fishing was market gardening. Vegetables were grown in huge quantities and animals (mainly pigs) were raised too.

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Sewage & Filthy River

Until 1865 Barking’s Creek, was a pretty, idyllic place to be and its water was clean and fresh. It was a place for nature and people to enjoy.

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Our Barking Stink Feed

Read, watch and listen to all you need to know about The Barking Stink.

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Illustration of Dirty Father Thames
Illustration: Punch Magazine

So What Gave Barking a Reputation for Being Stinky?

Barking’s reputation for pungent smells was founded by its fisheries; it was developed by the pungent whiff of manure hauled through the town to its expanding market gardens; and it was firmly established by the foul consequences of Joseph Bazalgette’s Northern Outfall sewer.

Throughout history it has been common planning practice to locate noxious–smelling industries downwind of the capital city. From the mid-nineteenth century, factories were built in ever greater numbers around Barking Creek; bitumen and asphalt producers, paint and chemical works, fertilizer factories, gas product works and rubber goods amongst the iron foundries, breweries, soap factories and timber mills. Barking Creek’s water gutters getting ever fouler by the decade, cutting it off from London. Out of sight maybe, but certainly not out of mind; its smell made certain of that.

The smell of Victorian Barking was so bad that in 1869 Punch magazine wrote a song about it:

The barges by the river

Bring the savoury London muck

Which at pleasant Barking station

Is shifted to the truck


And so pungent is its odour

By that station as you go

That Barking causes biting

To eyes and nose also

Busy commuters walking past Henry Reichhold's One Hour installation 2019

Read, Watch & Listen

Check out all our videos, images, podcasts, interviews, workshops and much more.

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Children paining in a workshop

What is The Barking Stink Project all About?

Project Objectives

  • 5 animated films created in partnership with Monteagle Primary School and Eastbury Community School.
  • 20 volunteers trained in archive research, produce oral histories and scented heritage facilitation.
  • 650 local children from across 7 different Barking and Dagenham schools participated in scented school visits to the exhibition at Valence House.
  • 5 public programme events exploring scent and heritage, including a scented panel discussion at Museum of London with olfactory experts, walking tours, film screenings and talks with authors and historians such as Iain Sinclair, Lee Jackson and Caroline Crampton.
  • 2 outdoor exhibitions at Southbank riverside and Valence House in Dagenham, complete with 5 scents to smell alongside the exhibition.
  • 12 new oral history recordings featuring ex-workers and local residents.
  • 2 reminiscence session group recordings with older people sharing memories.
  • 5 podcast episodes featuring edited extracts around different themes.
  • 250 archive images digitised from Valence House’s Herbert Hope Lockwood archive.
  • Local primary school teachers took part in professional development sessions.
  • 100 students and innovators tackling the challenge of scented heritage over 2 days at a Heritage Hackathon.
  • 1 website archive to share research, archive photos and resources.

Project Team

Nikki Shaill (Project Manager), Adrian Evans (Project Director), Mark Watson and Karen Rushton (Valence House Museum archive partners), Joshua Knowles (animator and illustrator), Chocolate Films (animations), Helen Ralli (exhibition and logo designer), Jen Kavanagh (exhibition curation and heritage consultant), Brighton Digital Media (podcasts), Odette Toilette, Cecilia Bembibre, Tasha Marks (scent and heritage experts), plus teachers and students at Monteagle Primary School and Eastbury Community School.

Project Volunteers

Bill Onwusah, Ian Jones, Melody Cohen, Felicity Hawksley, Jamie Cho, Austin Reed, Katy Hodges, Dipa Begum, Helen Winskill, Fraser Pitkethly , Fiona Pettitt, Paul Prowsland, Jo Cook, Sandra Prada, Oyin Dami Okusanya, Geneviève Godin, Jasleen Kandhari, Anwen Evans, Cecelia Rooney, Clare Spollen and Poppy Tripp.

I think Barking is undergoing great change, and there's a lot of community conflict about that - this project has shown me we need to act quickly to preserve the local memories and recognise the investment in heritage and support that helps us save the past.
Project Volunteer

Supported by:

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