Smell and the City

Urban smell enthusiasts

Guest Blog: SCENTS OF A LANDSCAPE – Liverpool L3 Smells


Princes Parade Pier © Kerry Morrison

Last week I had the great honour of presenting at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Sensing Place Symposium, and heard about the fascinating work being conducted by Toby Heys of Manchester Metropolitan University on sonic cartography, Sara MacKian of the Open University on perceptions of a sixth sense and the role this plays in people’s lives, and learnt more about the latest work of one of my favourite academics, Tim Edensor also of MMU, on darkness and light. One of the greatest things about such symposia, apart from the chance to learn more about the work of esteemed colleagues of course, is the great people who come along to listen to, discuss and in general advance the ideas presented. At this event, I had the opportunity to meet, albeit briefly, Kerry Morrison an in-situ environmental artist undertaking a PhD at the University of Salford, and also author of the blog nature exposed. As a result, Kerry made me aware of a wonderful post she originally wrote back in December 2012 on the smells she experienced in the landscape of Liverpool, and which she kindly agreed to allow me to re-blog here. So here goes, Kerry’s post below, and to view the original, including more images, click here.

Clegg street

Clegg Street © Kerry Morrison


I am not the first to write about this stinking city I doubt – nay, hope – I will be the last. There is much to be said about the stimuli of smell; and, our sense of smell is more acute than we may think: it informs us about the world around us in many ways. Little smelly particles – called odorants – are constantly drifting up our nostrils as we breathe in. But, only distinct, pungent smells seem to grab our attention, like coffee, petrol, and fish ‘n’ chips…

At times we consciously employ our sense of smell, for example, sniffing milk to be sure that it has not turned sour before we pour it into our tea. But, more often than not, we don’t consciously smell – our landscape. Odour seeps into our olfactory bulb and what our brain does with it from there, somehow, seems out of our control insomuch as we don’t register the scents of the everyday that surround us. Ambient odour become a melange, like a mixed melody or a white noise, whereby frequencies/fragrances merge creating a flat spectrum of smell not really distinguishable as anything in particular. So, to try to deliberately smell landscape – as we might view landscape – requires concentrated effort: a nosing of the air with intent.

Journeying through Liverpool, on my bike, I wanted to smell the city, and in doing so, try to form a smell memory of Liverpool: a memory that would distinguish Liverpool from other cities I have been in and take me back to this chapter in time: blissfully indulging myself in the hunt for urban brownfields – counterculture nature in our Liverpool landscape. I wanted a Liverpool smell memory. There’s nothing quite as evocative as a smell. Odours have the ability to thrust us back in time – unlocking a memory. There’s nothing quite as evocative as a smell. Odours have the ability to thrust us back in time – unlocking a memory linked directly to a place, person, or thing (living or inert) that is awaked upon encountering that smell once more: the Proust Phenomenon

So, I tried to cycle open nosed: sniffing up the odorants to get an olfactory sense of the city. Certain areas – landscapes – are more vivid than others, and none more explicit than the docks, specifically, Regent Road and its subsidiaries, a landscape of productivity, human activity, life, and decay. From Princes Dock to Millers Bridge, street after street emitting odours that I could distinguish and name and odours that were distinct but I had no name for. Cycling through these smelly streets, breathing in deeply, soaking up the scents as I weaved between magnificent warehouse buildings, dodging potholes, nosing the air with such intent that (at times) I could taste the flavour of the fragrance in the back of my throat.


the perfume of the place

oft heady and exhilarating

rendering a redolence


essences blending in the air

amalgamated non replicable


odours drifting in and out of reception

in and out of one another

that  place perfume has no name

the high, mid, and low tones: the pungent punctuations of the perfume can be told:

buttered toast and spray paint

paper pulp and sugar beet

sickly sweet and nauseating

cooking oil


molasses and axel grease

lay-by beef burgers



cherry red

instant coffee

rusty metal

burnt metal

grinding metal

paint burning


cigarette, exhaust, hot metal


wood burning

fresh timber

cut pine


damp cloth

rotting fabric

old mattress

wet carpet



bricks and gravel

bovine hoof melting size forming



engine oil

liquid  lard

meaty fragrance morphing

 gelatine stink

acrid stench

nostril curling


head recoiling tango move

treacle toffee

epoxy resin


tyres burning

burning rubber

wet bins

household waste effluence


human production and demand

                          in the making in the breaking in the rotting



48 brownfields

supporting nature

a more subtle nose


smells of flora

clovers and sweet mellilot

privet, yarrow, autumn leaves

mallows, mosses, mullein

buddleia and burdock

floral bouquet whiffs

agitated in the atmosphere






melding in sea air

from Princes Dock to Millers Bridge


drifting in and out of reception


Liverpool docks, brimming with aesthetic allure, smell great. With an aesthetic spectrum of smell: from the sublime to the disturbing; stenches that can make you heave followed so closely by the mouth-watering smell of toast, or sweet smells of wild flowers that can transport you to the countryside and cottage gardens. As I cycled these masculine streets I became acutely aware of the aromas of nature in this highly industrious neighbourhood. This supposedly grimy landscape is far from void of nature; and this landscape’s nature added a fresh nose that I appreciated. And to this end, whether you can see nature or not matters not when it comes to the nose. Sniffing Liverpool docks as I did has created a complex and personal sense of place where sounds and sights are locked together with smells. These smells are now retained in my olfactory memory. And, in future years, perhaps a meld of molasses, oil, and buddleia will trigger the Proust Phenomenon: casting me back to this place, this time: my Liverpool.


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This entry was posted on May 28, 2014 by in Smell and the City Project.
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