Smog and 'pea-soupers'
Gasworks and coal-fired power stations contributed greatly to the pollution of the capital. A Londoner invented the word 'smog' in 1905 to describe the city's treacherous combination of natural fog and coal smoke.
|Men gathered around a beacon in thick smog. © NMM|
By then, the dirty, smelly, smoke-filled 'pea-soupers' were familiar to everyone in London. Sometimes, the entire Beckton area was enveloped in its own private fog from the local works. This 1920s photograph demonstrates just how thick the smog could get.
The attached video file describes how a member of the deaf community experienced a thick smog during the 1950s. A mixture of pollution from power stations, factories and homes resulted in a 'pea-souper' along the banks of the River Thames.
As well as being damaging to people's health, the fog could also disrupt daily life. A 1902, twice-weekly report from a fog monitor gives an indication.
|Pollution from Deptford power station. © NMM|
'White and damp in the early morning, it became smoky later, the particles coated with soot being dry and pungent to inhale. There was a complete block of street traffic at some crossings.
Omnibuses were abandoned, and several goods trains were taken off. From the summit of St Paul's Cathedral for instance the average limit of visibility was only one-half mile [800 m].'
The Clean Air Act
Not until the 1950s, when a four-day fog in 1952 killed nearly 4000 Londoners, did the politicians take action. Parliament enacted the Clean Air Act in 1956, effectively reducing the burning of coal.
|Pollution from Greenwich power station. © NMM|
It was the beginning of serious air pollution control in England and meant the beginning of the end for coal-fired power stations.