Making Sense of the London “Fog”

Write a micro-history of the events that occurred in London in Dec. 1952. Have a clear argument that attempts to answer the question for your group. In other words, what creative insight can you give us, backed up by historical evidence, that isn’t necessarily obvious? Use the specifics from your group’s particular batch of primary sources in order to make your account as interesting and unique as possible. In other words, aim for an essay that is not simply a broad summary, but one that ties the general to the specific.

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  1. The great amount of smog in Britain in 1952, known as “the fog”, was the culmination of many dynamic factors. These factors being climate, both economical and meteorological. The winter was a cold one, this led to more people burning more fuels in a desperate attempt to stay warm, and drive their machinery. The area was greatly industrialized, with each person owning their own private machine, the automobile. Cars and industrial machinery were booming, with three power plants in a 20 mile radius in one area. This led to pollution from exhausts on top of the fuel that was being burned to heat homes and public places. The cold air also helped to trap the denser fog lower and closer to the ground, blanketing the ground below with it. The abundance of burning fuels also stemmed from the abundance of fuels to burn. In the post-war era, the region had more than enough consumables, and luxuries such as warmth and cars, were consumed more than ever and easier than ever. All of these events led to the production of a massive sheet of smog canvassing the British region.

    The fog brought about recollections of the cholera outbreak in 1854, almost a hundred years prior. The sudden and unexpected illnesses and death were similar between the two incidences. Both the fog and cholera were brought about by everyday activity, and greatly affected natural necessities, like air and water. In both instances, the people were confused about the issue, and looked towards the government for help. Both issues were unforeseen and were difficult to remedy. Cholera took an expensive sewer system to remove, as the smog would take an expensive restructuring of the city.

    As London recovers from the ordeal, the public is much more interested in the causes and the effects of “the fog”. The general consensus is that investigations should be made into the effects and other attributes of the smog that plagued them. It also seems to be thought a good idea to promote some new changes in legislature and daily life. One of these changes would be to retire older machinery that produces more pollution than its newer counterparts.

    The people of the time were somewhat unsure of how to respond “the fog”, but they were committed to change. Another proposal by the citizens of London was to have “smokeless zones” throughout the area, a unique and different idea that would theoretically decrease the amount of pollution that homes and businesses in the zone produce. It was pointed out that the people did not have a good way to protect against the smog as the health masks available at the time were not very effective at blocking air particles. The public were probably looking for alternatives to these masks in case of a later fog.

    In summary, the public was frightened and looked to the government and science as a remedy for “the fog”. They demanded ways to prevent and remediate a future occurrence of “the fog”. The remedies were effective in preventing another smog disaster. London has not experienced another smog crisis and the quality of the air improved steadily from 1952 on. While there is a much smaller portion of sulfur being released in the air, there is still an issue with harmful gases being released in the atmosphere.

  2. Izabela Mazur
    Javier Silva
    Weiyang Li

    The Movement and Hindrance of Icy Fog over London

    Fog started to spread much fear as high death rates started to climb, along with its fast spread to nearby regions.The committee of the National Smoke Abatement Society reported that in the last 100 years, London has only seem death tolls in the thousands in three other cases (The times of London, “Inquiry Into London Fog Suggested.” 18 November 1951 ). As the season changed to winter, the fog progressed to be even more alarming because it affected public transportation, the lives of the people, and the health of everyone. The fog that covered London created more hindrance for more than just the people of London trying to live their everyday lives. It created a hindrance for the government that started to ask itself if they were doing enough for their constituents. For the first time we start to see Parliament taking action to relieve the needs of the public. More importantly the government started to question itself and its ignorance to the problem.

    Big associations, such as the “Royal Automobile Club” reported that “fog and ice still affected a number of roads in East Anglia, and there were patches of ice in Oxfordshire, Glouchestershire, and South Wales.” The fog started to spread to other big regions, and cause even greater panic and necessity for a solution. The public started to notice that “ London buses and coaches [had] some delay in the Southern Region railway services” (The Times London,”London Clear of Fog.” 10 December, 1952). Thus, this caused Parliament to take notice that this was a prominent issue, that was not only affecting individuals, but also society as a whole. Consequently Parliament states that, “Great care was taken about people’s water and food and something should be done about the air ( The Times London,”Danger to Health from Fog Pollution.” 18 November, 1953).” New ideas started to emerge with a central focus on eliminating smoke. The ideas proposed were “smokeless fuel” and “smokeless zones”. These proposals are similar to the modern day environmental friendly alternative fuels and technology. Parliament enstated that “seventeen authorities had power to create smokeless zones.” This sudden support from the government helped to unite individuals and companies to rationally and effectively find ways to eliminate the fog. Their main concern was “that something of the order of two million tons of smoke; 500,000 tons of grit, and five million tons of sulphur dioxide were given off throughout the country annually.”

  3. In the 1950′s London was one of the industry capitals of the world. Halting any kinds of commerce here would cause economic downturn in England and the entire world. On December 6, 1952, dense fog led to road closures and transport delays that lasted almost a week. The smog from coal fires kept in by stagnant air caused visibility to lower to less than 100 yards, even in the middle of the day, right before the Christmas season. London commerce was essentially put at a standstill. The London fog of 1952 caused an economic downturn right before the biggest spending season of the year

    Trains carrying livestock and other goods were delayed several hours due to very poor visibility. Meanwhile, people continued to attempt to go about their daily lives. Christmas shoppers were not phased and continued to shop despite the bad conditions (“Fog Delays Air Service,” The Times, 6 Dec 1952). This created a decrease in the supply of goods in the stores, and without being able to receive shipments, this meant stores were experiencing less revenue when they ran out of products to sell.

    Airlines were also seeing less revenue. Taking off in the fog was difficult, and therefore they were having trouble running commercial and non commercial flights. The estimated loss in revenue was nearly £20,000 (“Chaos Again in Fog,” The Times, 9 Dec 1952). This also meant that it was hard to ship goods across seas, which effected London’s profit within international trade markets.

    During this time there was also the Smithfield Cattle Show. At the show, owners of livestock were hoping to make money winning competitions, but many animals needed to be slaughtered due to respiratory issues. This dampened the owners profits from the show (“More Deaths at Cattle Show,” The Times, 9 Dec 1952). Overall, the delays in transport slowed the economy in London. The effects of the fog infiltrated all areas of trade from services to agriculture to the sale of goods. This caused a large loss in profits, despite the typically lucrative holiday season

  4. When disaster strikes, it is a trend for the most powerful people to recommend solutions to the immediate problem. These articles show, however, that initial recommendations are not always welcomed by citizens of less significant social positions. Because the most powerful people only care about their immediate problem, there is less significance given to the consequential problems that arise from the initial solution. Solutions from a disaster can cause more problems, which need more solutions that may lead to more problems for others. It is thus an endless cycle.

    The immediate problem in London 1952 was the smoke which killed thousands. As Caroline Haslett of article one shows, one immediate solution to this problem was enforcing more homes to be run by electricity. Haslett complained it was unfair for housewives who live in electric homes to have a heavier workload simply because their neighbors continued to indulge in “nutty slack”. Haslett was also a woman of power, however, which enabled her to suggest this solution. As the Director of Electrical Association for Women, Haslett was a woman of wealth and power. She is biased not only because she has the money necessary to have an electric home, but also because if she swayed readers to have electric homes themselves then her wealth would increase more.

    On the other side, people of less social status do not have the financial stance to make recommendations. They do, however, argue that Haslett’s solution is not beneficial to them. As Bell in article four points out, it is a blessed thing to be able to have an electric house, but not only is that not financially feasible to all, it also causes more problems to those who cannot afford electric houses and live “under the rain of grits” from the power station. As an ordinary citizen, the immediate solution presented is one that causes more problems for him. This is because, as Bellingham in article two points out, there is a heavier concentration of Sulphur Dioxide in south-west London and extends to the north-east. Bellingham, however, is the Director-General for the Coal Council. Nutty slack is made from coal dust. Therefore if neighbors followed Haslett’s recommendations, the increase of electric houses would decrease the financial benefits he receives from coal use. He is an example of how the only people who do stand up for the lower class people who will suffer from the increased smoke caused by the generating stations are those who will financially benefit from continued coal use themselves.

    While all writers agreed that smoke was a problem in London, there was a disagreement as to where this problem arose and what steps should be taken to fix the problem. Some who wrote to the editor believed the smoke was a result of “nutty slack” and suggested if more people switched to electric houses then there would be a decrease in smoke. Others believed electric houses were not economically feasible, nor would it decrease smoke since the power stations would still emit smoke.

  5. Patrick Connolly
    Woojin Pang
    Consuelo Huerta

    Group 2:
    (Weather or Not?)

    During December 1952, the London’s Great Smog was an environmental disaster that have been detrimental to everyday lives of the Londoners. In this time, London was at a halt. Problems with traffics, commuting, increased rates of robbery and public violence throughout the city have startled the society as a whole. However, little did they know of the industrial origins of the fog or did they realize that there was a solution to alleviate or solve the crisis.

    Problems with traffic was a huge issue during the times of the Great Smog. At times the fog has made it difficult for the Londoners to have vision for commuting through automobiles. Many cars and buses were left abandoned, as well as frequent cancelled flights due to the lack of visibility. Furthermore, automobile accidents became more common. The Londoners were fully aware that fog was to blame, yet neither have they expressed public outrage as to track the origins of the fog and ultimately come up with a solution. In addition, farmers were unaware how their stocks have come about to be transmitted of bronchitis. “Veterinary officials worked on Saturday and yesterday treating animals which appeared to have contracted respiratory troubles either on their long journeys or in the fog-filled halls” (“Transport Dislocated By Three Days of Fog”).

    The smog did not only negatively impact transportation but also affected the London’s economy. London’s flights were being cancelled and thus losing a huge portion of income. Many of the theaters, sporting events, and concerts were cancelled due to the density of the fog. Likewise, the Londoners were fully aware that the fog was a huge interference yet little did they find similarities between the pollution and the fog. In fact, at this time, the fog was considered as a “part of life” and “romantic”. The fog has also increased the rate of public crimes and violence. Valuables such as jewelries, furs, cigars, and alcohols were easily stolen under the cover of smog.

    The lack of understanding of the situation made it extremely difficult for the Londoners to solve the crisis. The time of the Great Fog was a learning example of what pollution can do to the city and people who live in it. It helps us know its consequences of what industrialization can bring to the society; it does not only harm the environment but also the city’s economy and public health.

  6. On December 5th, 1952, as many Londoners were focused on Christmas, a fog rolled over the city that many thought was a “romantic pea-soup fog”. However, during the next four days, the fog became the ignition of a political and social change focused on improving the environment and regulations on pollution.

    While the fog proved later to be dangerous to many caught in it’s dark shadow, the newspapers printed on December 6th and December 9th granted little coverage of the fog’s hazardous tendencies to respiratory and cardiac health. At the start of the fog, London continued with their social and economical responsibilities. For instance, a brief discussion in an article about delays around the city did not prevent shoppers and businesses from running. With visibility in London “seldom exceed[ing] 100 yards”, Richmond Bridge completely shut down for traffic, and public transportation delayed, businesses turned on their lights and shoppers continued preparing for Christmas.

    By December 9th, the Smithfield Cattle Show continued as planned. While some cattle doned smog masked, the article did not stress the danger of the livestock, claiming “not more than two percent of the total cattle entries were affected”. The brief coverage in the article ends with a celebration for the winning steer named Gregor.

    Upon reflection of “The Great Smog of 1952”, by the end of December 6th, 500 people had lost their lives to the fog. Hospitals were turning people away from treatment due to being overcrowded. When the death toll was completed, an estimated 4,000 Londoners lost their lives during this event. As shown by the articles written on that date, it is clear Londoners did not recognize the severity of the fog during the four day darkness. On the other hand, the event led to the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, and continues to fuel emissions regulations and standards today.

    Group 1: Sharon Wehmeyer, Jelena Vujicic, Eduardo Padilla
    “Confluence of problems”

  7. Theo Economos
    Edward Rivera
    Mario Marin

    Group 2( Weather or Not?)

    At first, Londoners simply believed the direct cause of the intense fog was unfavorable weather than usual due to being so accustomed to this climate. However, after a while, they began to realize that the true source of the plight is city-wide pollution, both residential and non-residential.
    One of the reasons many believed that this was a weather caused phenomenon was due to the fact that other weather aspects were being reported at the same time as the fog; specifically frost build-up across the city. In the article “Chaos Again In Fog”, we catch glimpses of the fact that both “fog and frost” are everywhere around the city. Due to the sightings of the frost, this added reinforcement to the fact that weather is the true source. They simply believed that the crappy weather such as the frost and even the colder temperatures were the roots of the fog problem when in all reality, it was vice versa; the fog was the true culprit. The intense and thick fog was blocking the sun beams from piercing into the city, which also meant that because of that, the sun could not heat up the frost that was building up on the streets and sidewalks of the city.

    As time went on through the week, they started to realize that the gloomy fog was not a result of horrible weather; it was a result of the pollution that was brewing through the whole city. As people started to pass away at an alarming rate, many realized that this could not simply be bad weather because “bad weather” would not lead to human deaths. On top of this, in the “1952 Dec 8 Three Days of Fog” article under the Show Cattle Affected, we see that cattle in the nearby areas started to drop dead due to complications in their lungs becoming black. This led to the realization that there must be something wrong with the air because of what the lungs are used for which is inhalation. Luckily, they were finally right. The air in London at the time was composed of mainly sulfur dioxide and other pollutants due to the horrible pollution that was fermenting in the city. The city was becoming greatly industrialized which meant huge factories and plants nearby or in the heart of the city. All of these factories were spewing out all these horrible chemicals into the air which led to burning of the eyes and lungs and eventually led to death.

    However, Londoners eventually realized that the factories were not the only source of the problem; residential areas were giving off almost as much. In the article “Clean Air Act Urged by Beaver Committee”, we see that “nearly half of all smoke came from domestic chimneys”. Residential housing was equal to blame as factories because almost every single home in or around the city would use coal (Nutty Slack Coal to be exact) and spew it out of their chimney which added augmentation to the thick cloud of smog over the city.

  8. At first glance, women throughout history have had more radicals and long term ideas to change a community for the better. However, such women came from high social standing with exposure to the latest technologies and had considerable influence in their community. During the 1952 London fog, various solutions were sought. One solution was accentuated by a woman(who was the director of the Electrical Association for Women) but had faced multiple oppositions from men who sought more conservative solutions.

    That said woman, Caroline Haslett, provided an alternative to the burning of coal as the main source of energy; electric domestics houses/ communities. Although the electric communities would still emit some emissions, it would be much cleaner and a viable source of energy than coal and oil burning. Caroline Haslett’s main argument with moving to an all electrical community was attempting to appeal to a more housewives centric community, leaving out those communities who are at a low social status and may not have the luxury of housewives. This is seen with E. Moberly Bell’s response to the editor, pointing out the the “Dame” does not live near a community where the factories that provide the electrical energy are located; demonstrating that the communities where Bell is from will suffer from the emission of power stations while communities with higher social status will prosper.

    Additionally, Sir F. E. Simon provides great detail as to why communities should not move to all electric, proving that moving to an all electric community will be expensive (1000million euros) to a majority of the lower social status communities. Instead, Simon provides a viable solution for all communities, although it is not long term, it will help even those in a lower social status and help alleviate the issue of smog in the city. In rebuttal to Sir Simon’s argument, Arnold B. Ridley and the Ridley committee demonstrate that, although Simon’s argument would provide a nice alternative to coal burning, the amount of propel fuel is scarce and will not provide a successful alternative to coal burning.

    Dame Caroline Haslett did have a proponent for an all electric community. Ernest Fisk points out how smog in the cities aren’t only attributed to factories or power stations, but they also came from motor vehicles. Fisk went as far as admitting that the electric plants would provide some smog, but it would reduce the overall smog levels as coal is burned more efficiently in the plants.

    Considering Caroline Haslett’s social standing and the responses to her idea to reduce smog, it is apparent that she possess ideas with good intentions but does not take into account the effects that it may have on a lower class community. The lower class may not afford electric homes and would live near the power stations. In addition, Caroline being an advocate for all electric homes is obvious with her profession, she had many opponents that demonstrated why her ideas could not be fully implemented as it would affect other professions. Although Caroline’s ideas were a huge improvement for the fog, the simple fact that it would not account for every community lead to most communities advocating for more conservative changes.

    By: Ariadne Silva, Steven Rojas, Adrian Alcantara

  9. Filip Letkiewicz
    Eric Brekke

    “The fog [...] showed no sign of clearing last night [...] the forecast for today is that dense fog and frost will continue. (“Transport Dislocated”, The Times, Dec. 8th, 1952). Since the mid 1800’s, London had a major issue with air pollution. Frequently, the city would be covered in a dense fog called “smog”, however, Londoners did not recognize that the dense fog was the result of massive air pollution. This was especially apparent in 1952 newspapers where the fog was discussed as an almost normal weather pattern. One article from The Times, quoting their weather correspondent, lumps sunny periods, temperatures, and fog into the same forecast. The fog was so dense, that criminals were able to commit crimes in the middle of the day without being seen, including robberies and muggings. People were even injuring themselves because they could not see what was a few yards in front of them. Shipping was often halted, traffic was always at a stand-still, flights had major delays, and events were usually cancelled. And yet all of this was apparently a result of foggy weather patterns.

    It was not until 1953 that the real issue became publically apparent. Widespread calls for change came, calling dirty fuels like Nutty Slack and coal an abomination. Legislation like the Clean Air Act was pushed for by anti-smoke activists. The usage of proper smokeless fuels was urged and yet met with resistance due to industrial costs. Companies would be forced to drop the coal burning and convert to electrical or gas powered machinery. They complained that this would completely put them out of business because of the high costs.

    At the time, it was also estimated that nearly half of all the smoke came from homes. The families would use coal to keep the house warm or to cook food. Because of that, the families had a hard time transitioning to the new “cleaner” ways of producing heat that was called upon by the Clean Air Act. Although it was a hard transition, the families had no choice because some of them had animals and even family members who were dying because of this smog. Cattle was dying and family members were developing lung problems. People were actually getting injured while walking to the hospital if they were having medical issues due to the smog.

    When reading an article from 1957, the city of Liverpool decided to have a smokeless zone in which covers 100 acres in the center of the town. The article, states that “There were no objections to the order and it will come into operation on April 1.” Later on, the town decided to add three more smokeless zones where the area was to be cleared and housing to be set up. All across the country, the smokeless zones were springing up. Of course, the air did not clear up right away, it took some time for the air quality to improve. The citizens of England learned that air pollution can be very devastating and so the legislation like the Clean Air Act were being enforced more and more to help maintain a healthy environment.

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