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40: Escalator Ozone: Overground & Underground Glasgow Subway Smells

“Nobody ever worked out what caused the subway smell. Some say the sparks, some say the moss in the tunnel.” (Sally Magnusson, The Scotsman, 1980)
Glasgow’s subway system, the Clockwork Orange, has a renowned scent whose qualities act as a smellmark in Glaswegian’s understanding of their city. The smell might derive from geological, infrastructural or chemical sources, and will likely have altered since the subway’s opening in 1896 over the course of three modernisation programmes in 1936, 1977 and 2023 respectively. To find out what smells are currently present, on Thursday March 21, 2024, a group of 6 smellwalkers recorded their smell perceptions of the surrounding streets and station ticket offices (overground) in comparison to the smells of the escalators, platforms, and train carriages (underground).

Shared smells across stations include food and synthetic odours. Overground, wet smells of the River Clyde merged with indeterminate sweet fragrances, cleaning products, and smoke. Underground, the relative dry warmth of the station was evident alongside a range of people smells. The sulphur smell mentioned in historical accounts and metallic odours are registered both above, and below ground, whereas ozone is the scent of descent on the escalators. The historical Glasgow subway and public transport smells, resulting from geological, infrastructural, and chemical backdrop to the system, are now augmented by significant numbers of odours arising from human activity.

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Date: 2024

Media & size: Digital Map

Published: 2024 – “Historical Smell Workshop”, University of Edinburgh. Project partially funded by Royal Society of Edinburgh ‘The Smell of Scotland’ grant.