September 23, 2012 Leave a comment
From Cities, by John Reader – p.3
[…] The entire country – not just the railways – ran on coal (though it was delivered to our houses by horse and cart). Smoke wafted from the chimneys of more than a million households. Every day, thousands of tons of coal were burned in London’s fireplaces, boilers, and furnaces. Clouds of steam, smoke and soot spewed continuously from locomotives, gas works, power stations and industrial smokestacks […].
Throughout the city, buildings were coated with a patina of soot which in some instances gave the impression that burnished black basalt, not white Portland stone, had been used in their construction. During most winters there would be occasions when a layer of cold air hung for days over London, trapping the smoke rising from the chimneys below. Soon a sulphurous mixture of smoke, soot and moisture would envelope the city – tinged green, and thick enough to become known as a pea-souper. […]
The pea-soupers killed hundreds of people every winter […]. The word smog entered the vocabulary as a definition of this very serious threat to public health in Britain’s cities (London was not the only city affected. The problem was as bad in all industrial cities.) Widespread public demands for action over the number of deaths forced the government to act and a succession of Clean Air Acts were introduced during the 1950s and ’60s. […]
[I began reading this book in August 2010, during the awful smog in Moscow, caused by peat fires outside the city. It was somewhat reassuring to be reminded that other cities had been through similar hell as well – and had successfully emerged from it, eventually.]