The major urban infrastructure that smelt it, dealt it
April 20, 2008 6:01 AM   Subscribe

"Stench of manure engulfs London." When I saw this headline, my first thought was: what, again?

The "Great Stink" of 1858 was a particularly intense manifestation of London's ancient drainage problems. The Thames had always reeked, but that summer, the stench was so horrendous that the windows of Parliament were covered with curtains soaked in cleaning solution so that business could continue.

The city's drainage infrastructure (such as it was) suffered from an upsurge in raw sewage, caused by the adoption of flush toilets (water closets) without any corresponding modern sewer system. Not only was the smell constant and oppressive, doctors considered it to be actively dangerous. Under the miasma theory of disease, "bad air" or poisonous gases were considered infectious; the smell of filth was believed to be a vector for cholera. Previously.

(Can any Mefites in London report on the smell? Does it deserve a front-page CNN article? The article says it's an agricultural odor. I'm from farm country, and on a few days in my hometown, the wind carries a strong smell out from the fields, leaving one with the feeling that if you lit a match, the air would explode. It's like driving past a paper mill, without getting to actually drive past.)
posted by Countess Elena (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, I just spent five minutes standing outside sniffing and looking silly. I can however report that there is a very faint whiff of "farm" in there, but its part in the olfactory symphony of London is close to being drowned out by the smell of traffic and other surch things.

(This is in west London, W8)
posted by fvw at 7:27 AM on April 20, 2008

I just assumed the odour came from the national football team.
posted by srboisvert at 7:32 AM on April 20, 2008

I smelt it a couple of days ago, but didn't notice it today.

It's not particularly strong, just a faint whiff that made me think there was a problem with the drains.

It's not really the intensity of it as the fact that it's spread across most of England that made it newsworthy.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:35 AM on April 20, 2008

I live in London and work there and in Windsor and the first I heard (or smelt) of it was Friday when my weekly Kudocities email came in with one of the questions asking, succinctly, "Why does London smell of shit today?"

Perhaps I had my head too far up my own arse to notice the other smell of poo in the air...
posted by LondonYank at 8:03 AM on April 20, 2008

I would think that the earthy smell of manure would be welcome on a Sunday in London, where two nights of public urination tends to make the Sabbath the worst-smelling day of the week. And pretty soon it'll be hot enough to smell homeless folks' blankets.

(I'm not ragging on London by any stretch. I've spent plenty of time there, think it's wonderful and it's been the focus of most of my travel daydreams lately. But for a city that looks pretty tidy, I find it surprisingly stinky.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:08 AM on April 20, 2008

I hadn't noticed it at all during the week. However having read this post, I'm now experiencing (probably) an olfactory hallucination of a manure smell in my sitting room. I'm going to take a bath until I'm smelling correctly again.
posted by roofus at 8:15 AM on April 20, 2008

We live in The Ghetto (aka, London's East End, postal code E1), and neither of us can smell anything out of the ordinary. Of course, it's always a little ripe on the wrong street down here, but still.

Mrs Mutant is Dutch and never misses an opp to 'dis England, even when its not warranted (my theory: this has something to do with the fact that The Dutch are 0 and 3 against The English during their various wars) and even she says she smells nothing.

The media is strange sometimes. But you can't help but laugh out loud at at tabloid headline reading "The Stench of Europe".
posted by Mutant at 9:01 AM on April 20, 2008

I live in London (Pimlico) and definitely smelled garbage in the air. I kept smelling it for blocks and was thus sure that it was something on me. I inspected my jacket, shoes etc. Same with Mrs. Vacapinta.

Only the next day did I see this headline in the paper! Definitely a garbage smell, like walking by a dump.
posted by vacapinta at 9:46 AM on April 20, 2008

Mutant, /sorry for the derail/ but I'd query the 0 for 3 Dutch English result. The "Glorious Revolution" of spinmeister William of Orange is now openly acknowedeged to have been an almost bloodless full-on invasion of England in 1688. Dutch soldiers patrolled the streets of London for at least 2 more years.

The common misconception that the last invasion of Britain was by the Normans is exactly that.
posted by Wilder at 9:55 AM on April 20, 2008

Heard about this on Friday, but just couldn't smell anything out of the ordinary on Clapham High street.

In point of fact, I think that London, in general smells alot better these days than when I was a younger. I remember there being days when you really would walk out into a foul smog. Never happens any more.
posted by munchbunch at 10:08 AM on April 20, 2008

On behalf of the Dutch I guess I should apologise to our London mefites...
Reminds me of the time when the netherlands were in a haze because of Easter bonfires in the German countryside.
It sucks to be downstream as we in NL know very well wrt the Rhine.

Interesting point Wilder. I know of it as the feat of our national hero admiral de Ruyter destroying the english fleet right in the Thames.
posted by jouke at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2008

The news is a little out-of-date - the smell was around on Friday. Smelt it in Clapham, Stockwell and Warren Street, particularly in the morning. Not around now.
posted by runkelfinker at 10:40 AM on April 20, 2008

In Essex the air outside my flat reeked of a smell best described as 'diarrhoea' on Friday morning. It was vile, but thankfully dispersed by lunchtime.
posted by essexjan at 11:11 AM on April 20, 2008

There's more than a whiff of excrement wafting through on the winds these days: UK plans unprecedented £50bn bank bailout
posted by ornate insect at 12:53 PM on April 20, 2008

I thought this was happening in New York too, but it turned out that it was just the collective hallucination of ten million people simultaneously thinking they're the shit.
posted by nasreddin at 3:26 PM on April 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

The thames isn't all bad. Now they have seahorses.
posted by BritishGas at 1:49 PM on April 21, 2008

Britain, I feel your pain, and then some. I'm reminded of when my old landlord hired some guys to come over to my house and spread manure on my front lawn.

On Thanksgiving morning.

After I'd spent over two days prepping an epic meal.

It was a hot day in which I would have kept the front windows open -- I was in the upstairs unit of a duplex and the cross-ventilation was perfect. Except that day I had to keep the windows closed to keep my guests and me from gagging on shitstench while we were trying to enjoy our meal. It was well over 90 degrees in the house, and stuffy. We sweated profusely, and we could still smell it somewhat.

When I called him to complain he thought it was funny.

I could have strangled him.
posted by chuq at 5:19 PM on April 21, 2008

jouke that was earlier, 1667, although a strong reason why when in 1688 the Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames there was no opposition.
posted by Wilder at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2008

great article here BTW
posted by Wilder at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2008

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