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Forum Home > Living and Working Conditions. > The Great Wednesfield Stink.

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For those unfamiliar with the area, Wednesfield lies in between Heath Town and New Invention, on the Lichfield Road, just outside Wolverhampton. It's a very ancient place is Wednesfield, believed to be the scene of a famous Saxon Battle in times of old. This story, strangely enough, begins very close to the suggested site of this battle, and also involves a struggle, well more of a struggle for breath really.

William Bradburn was an enterprising man, he could see the benefits in what was thrown away, so as such, he was an early example of a re-cycling man. he had an abiding, and at times, obsessive interest in Manure. In the early 1860s, after studying the subject closely, he set up a small pilot plant on the banks of the Bentley Canal, very near to New Cross, on the Wolverhampton Road. Here, he began experiments, not always successful, that is according to the many complaints received, about the appalling stench that drifted over the little hamlet. Just before Christmas, 1865, his men were observed, tipping the contents of four large bins onto his land beside a lane called New road. Pretty soon, this pile of decomposing filth began to emit the most terrible smell, as witnessed by Mrs Sarah Bickley, who lived nearby, and Mr Emery, who claimed he could smell it from over 75 feet away. Mr Bradburn claimed it was set out to finish decomposing and was almost ready to spread on the fields where it would prove to be most beneficial for the soil. Hard to believe, when Mr Emery and others, had found around the edges of this festering pile of offal, the skins of several animals, and many internal organs. It was claimed that at least a foot of earth had been piled on top, but it was all to apparent that it hadn't. Mr Bradburn was issued with a summons.

The frightful smell had also attracted the attention of Wednesbury's fledgling Board of Health, who called in an expert, Birmingham's Analyst, a Doctor Hill, and his assistant, Doctor Letheby. An inspection was quickly arranged. The process was explained by William Bradburn. His raw material for the production of his Artificial Fertiliser, consisted of the remains from the local Horse slaughter house's, Coprolite, ( look it up ) Shoddy, a term for wool rements, other matter, ( apparently a different souce of Coprolite ) Superphospates, all mixed up with a quantity of Sulphuric Acid. The ingredients were all mixed in large drums, and then left to decompose, the acid supposedly eliminating any bad odours. He blamed the smell on having to small a wheel to turn the drums for mixing, and had, he said, now fitted a much bigger one. He went on to explain to his visitors, that from time to time, especially when emptying the vats, some foul odours would escape. At this point, several visitors had already quietly left the scene of the vats. Asked how much each vat held, he replied between 7 and 8 tons. Which meant of course, that a few days before, his men had dumped at least 16 tons of rotting garbage in the open, the noxious smell from which had almost choked the poor villagers. A demonstration of the propsed new process was arranged for a few days later, during which time, Mr Bradburn had cleaned up the works and carted away the worst of the offending material. Members of the Board of Health were present at this meeting, and as the material was fairly fresh, there was very little of the smell complained about, hanging in the air. Mr Bradburn again assured his guests, that only when the vats were emptyed, would the slightest hint of any noxious fumes drift across the inhabitants of Wednesfield. Satisfied at this demonstration, and after a very convivial Lunch, with re-freshments, the Board declared that Mr Bradburn could carry on with his business. He was, after all, an employer of many men, most of whom it has to be said, came from the stinking slums of Wolverhampton, and who wouldn't have noticed much of the bad smell anyway. But what about that summons.

Well, as you would expect, a rather indignant William Bradburn proffessed his innocence of the dumping of what today would be described as " Hazardous Waste ". This time though, there were a conciderable line of witness'es waiting to condemn his actions, and though he fought a valient battle, as the Danes must have done against the Saxons, he went down under the wieght of the evidence. The Magistrates were surprisingly lenient, fining him just the one shilling, but leaving him open to further action should he transgress a second time. At this he was outraged, and demanded to fined properly, and when they refused, asked for, and got leave to appeal. He lost that as well. The firm though did improve, as the process got better, and they were still in operation in the early 1900s. And what of the gut wrenching smell, well, it never really went away, folks just got used to the occasional nasty niff.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 16, 2013 at 4:03 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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