EVENT: Research Results Unveiling

At this event the Snidge Scumpin’ project will reveal the findings of its research into what specific smells belong to the Black Country, and what particular memories they evoke in Black Country locals. Psychologist Dr Tom Mercer has crunched hundreds of pages of data and will unveil which particular Black Country smells resonated with the participants.

Senior Lecturer in TESOL Judith Hamilton investigated the language participants used to describe the odours used in the experiment. The team will also unveil the Top 5 Black Country smells. To celebrate the success of the research, Kerry Hadley-Pryce, R. M. Francis and Liz Berry will perform short pieces on their olfactory associations with the Black Country.

The big reveal will be part of this year’s Wolverhampton Original Literature Festival:

Fri 1st Feb 2019

5pm – 7pm

Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Free Entry


Wolverhampton Central Library, Children’s Library, 1980s

by Liz Berry

Audio Version here

The smell of it, even now, is like being stroked behind the knees, it makes me buckle.

A wood in September: the warm singe of heat on bark, sweat, leafsmoke, the air all of a sudden freckled with dust, and me kneeling between the stacks, face hidden in the leaves of a book.

I’m in that formless time before school, waiting for her to finish work. My mom, the librarian. In that humming forest of books, she moves gently as a root. Her scent is everywhere amongst the stacks: the tea on her tongue, the vinegar tang of her feet as she slips off her pinching shoes behind the counter, her perfume, anais anais, white lilies over leather and wood. She is a pale bloom in the dim hush between the shelves and swaying ladders, the soft sh shhh of the date stamp.

Her quiet world has the yellow smell that yearning has, the dreaming yellow of thousands of thumbed pages and cracked spines. The smell of being saved. There’s something feral there too, something alive, in the beanbags and flattened moss green carpet – a zing of ammonia: sucked pear drops, the little animal reek of piss, small unwashed bodies uncurling into the light.

The Black Country she was born into is already lost, shelved mournfully and thankfully on tissue thin pages in the Local History section. Industry and Genius: A Fable. Now it’s the work of words and books, a different kind of mining from the dark.

And here is her child is waiting for her, swinging her legs on a wooden chair, but still – for a moment longer than is needed – she kneels amongst the hardbacks and buries her face in the yellow winged moth of a book, breathing its smell of paper and binding; the new story already begun.

Chrysanthemums smell like graveyards

by Eileen Ward Birch


Or should it be graveyards smell of chrysanthemums?

My parents always sold flowers in their greengrocers, so I saw the turning of the years in fruits, vegetables and flowers. Daffodils in early spring have a beautiful delicate scent, especially the pretty multi-headed jonquils.

I remember going to visit Leah, the Wolverhampton flower seller who supplied our shop wholesale. She and her family sold flowers in the town centre and outside the hospitals as well as supplying bouquets and funeral tributes. Her HQ was a shed-like structure in Penn Fields.  We went there to talk through and order flowers for my wedding, which being Easter Monday was a tricky one.  The church was easy, as my parents simply paid for the church flowers that would have been there anyway for Easter.  Buttonholes for the chief guests were also a simple decision, as carnations were the order of the day back then and Dad treated Mom to a lovely orchid.  However, I was to be carrying a prayer book and just needed a small bunch of something delicate – I settled for freesias.  The aroma of that shed lingers to this day, all sorts of flowers, dominated by the chrysanthemums which were mostly destined for funerals.

Then the tulips and the sensitive mimosa. I well remember the time Dad decided to turn the petals of a few tulips that were past their best so that they curled opposite to how they should. We actually had customers admiring the exotic result and asking the name and price.

Summer flowers were mainly cornflowers and carnations, both of which we could turn into lovely sheafs using gypsophilia as a background and filler.

Through it all if ever there was an order for funeral flowers, either a sheaf or wreath, it would be chrysanthemums, the flower that filled our vases in autumn.

I’m not sure if it’s the association of chrysanthemums with funeral flowers or if graveyards do indeed smell of them, but every time I go to a service in an old cemetery, like we do in Merridale, I smell chrysanthemums. The Dutch War Graves service takes place on Remembrance weekend and is dominated by poppies, but even with few funeral tributes around I still smell chrysanthemums during our service.

Engine Oil

By Eileen Ward Birch

I was always daddy’s girl and from the time I could stand I loved little better than ‘helping’ my Dad with our cars.  Over the years we had a variety of motors as they were needed for the business and Dad did most of the mechanical work on them himself having learned to drive in the days when you had to know about these things.  In fact, he’d never taken a test to drive a car and only took one to drive heavy goods vehicles when the test for them was introduced.

As soon as Dad had the bonnet up on a car, or started to remove a worn tyre, I would be there ready to follow instructions what to listen for or which pedal I could press.  I even used a foot pump to inflate tyres as soon as I was strong enough.

Mostly what I remember of those times though is the aroma of the warm engine oil as he tinkered under the bonnet with the engine running to hear any mistiming or unusual sounds.

He could have smelt of any fruit and veg in the shop, but for me the aroma of warm engine oil under the bonnet of a car brings back the days when I was small and my Daddy let me help him to fix his cars.

Eileen Ward Birch

In this first of two Snidge Scrumpin’ blog posts, local writer and Black Country expert, Eileen Ward Birch gives us her smell inspired memories. 


Wood, or to be more precise, sawdust. I love the smell of newly sawn wood and this is why.

When I was young there was a smallholding a few doors up the street where an older couple kept chickens, some permanent for eggs, others for the Christmas market.

Even poultry that is reared free range needs to have some litter in the pens for during the night.  Sawdust is very good for this as it absorbs the liquid in the droppings and has a nice smell.  Thus, the sawdust had to be replenished regularly.  Fortunately, there was a small factory nearby where they made timber fittings for houses etc and as a result had a lot of sawdust to dispose of.

We local children would go with Auntie Hilda (the lady from the smallholding) and a wheelbarrow and sacks to collect supplies to keep the chicken sheds nice.  The short walk to the woodworks was over what had been the spoil heaps from the local gin pits, which were mostly clay and a great place for us children to play cowboys and indians or simply hide and seek.

Once at the woodworks, we crawled into a space about three or four feet high behind the bench where the wood was sawn into planks etc.  This was where the sawdust was thrown along with the odd chunk of unusable wood.  Once in this space we filled the sacks with the precious sawdust and any pieces of wood we found before crawling back out under the bench.

I might add that the actual saw was not near to where we had to go.

Back at Auntie’s the sawdust was stored until it was needed and any blocks of wood were put on one side to make sticks for toffee apples.  Yes, we did make them by hand whittling the wood smooth after it had been chopped into suitable pieces. In winter they went into the coal house for the household fires.  Which brings me to another aroma.

The used sawdust had to be disposed of somehow and the simplest method was to burn it.  Anybody who has ever inhaled the aroma of chicken muck and sawdust being burned will never forget it.  It is at once woody and pungent with a hint of ammonia.

Come Christmas Uncle Harry (Auntie’s husband) would kill those chickens needed for customers.  However, he was only the start of our seasonal production line.  In the kitchen some of us local children would sit around a tin bath in front of the old black lead range and pluck the poultry (turkeys and chickens) by gaslight.  Once plucked the birds would be handed to Auntie who lit a spill made of newspaper and singed them to remove any little feathers that we had not been able to remove – another pungent aroma.  Auntie was also in charge of drawing the insides out of the poultry, a job she did with great dexterity before wrapping the discarded offal into a sheet of newspaper to fuel the fire keeping us all warm.  Nothing wasted in those days.

We try to keep Sunday best, though mom hates Sundays

By Natalie Burdett


After church, we’d drink Irn Bru,

wipe beefy crisp-crumbs

from our faces with the backs of hands

as mom and dad pulled out the twin tub,

pushed it to the sink to fill,

its whir spreading chlorine’s shock

through heavy whites,

bleach mist making windows opaque.


Our boredom simmered

with the scent of powder’s garden-fresh green flecks.

Their faces reddened

hauling dripping towels washer to spinner,

like drowned otters on the boiler stick –

bone-pale, cracked

but strengthened by hot-cold dry-wet –

as each load filled and drained.


Last, the dark load’s incense and grit

swirled around the space-pattern drum

with soft rinse water – slippy, blue –

gathered a tang of rubber,

splurging the sink through the curved grey pipe,

then a final tipping up

to empty before the washer went back,

a cabbage pan rattling, too, now


mixing metal odours with clean steam

fat spitting in the pudding tray – hot, dangerous,

roast potatoes – dry salt crisp,

a turkey roast shrinking from its paper wrap – meat fat

the brittle smell of the oven’s glass door

and the dog under mom’s feet

and us not helping,

and homework not even started yet.

Snow Day – Wayne Dean-Richards

My granddad once told me about a teacher who wore glasses with little mirrors attached to the frames so he could see behind him: as if he really did have eyes in the back of his head!  

When he saw, reflected, one of the kids in his class messing about, he grabbed whatever was closest – usually the blackboard rubber or a stick of chalk – and threw it at the miscreant: whack! 

Perhaps that story sowed the seeds in me: certainly I didn’t think of teachers as human beings who liked to play in the snow!  

It was why I was surprised when Mr Cannon told me to open all the windows in the mobile classroom. 

The school heating system had conked out that day, and if it was below a certain temperature everyone had to be sent home. 

It was early January and there was a foot of snow on the ground.  

A class of thirteen year olds, of course we longed to be released: to charge off to Warley Woods to sledge and throw snowballs! 

But Cannonball was a teacher! Why would he tell me to open all the windows before the Headmaster came round with a thermometer to check the temperature? 

I was more than surprised: I was gob-smacked, which is why I didn’t move.  

“Get out of the way, lad,” Cannonball snapped, moving past me and flinging open windows to let in the icy air: as he did so dousing me with his aftershave: strong enough to curl my nostril hairs: the Brut 33 Henry Cooper used to advertise on telly, something I thereafter always associated with a snow day.