By 1957 people living locally in Langley had obviously been long suffering of a notorious “Oldbury smell”. But before Mrs Gunn and her withered bush , it is clear from other articles published in the Birmingham Gazette that not only was Albright and Wilson destroying the quality of life locally, but much further afield. As always I endeavour on this blog to get to the heart of this pong, where others would simply print factory lies.
The story begins post war. The following article from 17th December 1949.
The article states that the stench even reached the posh area of Sutton Coldfield- so no wonder The Ministry of Health were getting involved. 😡 Mentioned in this article is one Alderman Samuel Thomas Melsom. More on him to come, as his name and longstanding position as chair of the health committee appear frequently in connection with this rotten odour.
From 5th July of 1950 we then arrive at another article
“Over a year ago complaints poured in yet the nuisance continues. It is offensive and nauseating and people complain they taste it in their food. I have reason to believe it causes vomiting.” Dr Hazem Barrada.
Quite incredible that all the latter day Albright and Wilson works management spinners and PR merchants were forever claiming great things about food and their company- yet here they were literally poisoning people’s food.
The source of the Tom, was actually from a post war venture between America and AW in the form of the oil additives plant. To blame for this deal we have war dodger W.B Albright and fellow home guard poser Sydney Barratt, who in 1944 went on a trip to America to survey the scene.
We learn from 100 years of phosphorus making
“One of the plants for some time emitted a far-reaching, persistent and most objectionable smell, known for many miles around Oldbury as ‘The Tom cat’. It brought the company into much tribulation with the local authorities until it was tracked down and ‘killed’.
This tomb was written in 1951, and as can be evidenced in subsequent years, it obviously had nine lives because the author was lying. 😆
A subsequent article appeared on 27th July 1950
This is a badly worded article that appears as though it was written quickly from a press release. Alderman “smellsome” appears to have some remarkable inside knowledge of the factory plant and its smelly old Tom, yet appears to offer no immediate remedy- such as shutting it down. Mentions of the ministry of health inspectors and doctors getting involved are appear important , yet it would be seen that this was also little more than appearing to try to pacify the “sleepless” community affected.
That Albright and Wilson’s business model and profit would be affected if the plant were to close shows how much they were favoured ahead of public health.
The next Gazette article from 1953 is somewhat bizarre, as it omits to mention “the chemical firm” involved in this disgusting industrial pollution! Instead we get one of those typical PR pieces where lazy journalists print verbatim a press release without challenge. Unfortunately this practice continues to the present day with many local titles.
“The smell arises only when a mistake is made during manufacture of a particular chemical and is due to a side reaction”. Oh how comforting.
The statement from this company defies belief and parody. No thanks for preventing their smell “Just brickbats” when they don’t. 😆 😆 The claim about it being “not detrimental to health” is another of those great chemical industry myths put about when something goes wrong. When a link with ill health is made they then move onto “not enough being found” to prove ill health. When enough is found to prove ill health they then try to claim it could have been something else. This was the case with asbestos and cancer- yet Albright and Wilson had their own health advising liars long after this era telling their workforce lies.
“The Great” (not my term), Nye Bevan even appears to have been unable to fix Albright and Wilson’s chimney coughs as Health Minister- so it was left to the company itself. Unfortunately this self regulation is something which Albright and Wilson appear to have become accustomed to throughout the 20th Century resulting in pollution and contamination for which they appeared unimpeachable.
By 30th March 1954 even Harold Macmillan was getting involved according to The Birmingham Daily Post article, but he couldn’t give any promises about further outbreaks!
We do get mention that the Smell originating from a factory premises in Oldbury is lingering over Smethwick. Nonsense in this article mentions about plant improvements, but they weren’t improvements were they if the smell persisted and these were just “mistakes”? What a ludicrous mind set to take.
The most interesting comment on this concerns reference to a “waste refuse tip” and “decontamination”. I wonder if this in reality meant moving the smell from the centre of Oldbury to a satellite “waste refuse tip” in Tividale?
Hey folks- and guess what- it didn’t end there. 😮 On 6th October the Birmingham Post were hot on the case. This time white smoke was rising with it! And here we see mention of The Gunns. Clothing is soiled upon the lines and windows deposited in filth .
“I can promise there will be protests at the next council meeting.”
Once again S.T Melsom makes promises to act. It can be seen later of course that he failed to act- but why?