Did You Know That For 5 Days, In 1952, London Gasped For Air?

There is much concern over pollution and air quality these days but back in 1952, central London was shrouded in a lethal layer of fog for five days, bringing the city to its knees and killing an estimated 4000 people.

nelsons_column_during_the_great_smog_of_1952 Credit

While Londoners at the time were no strangers to fog, this was a bit more serious. After weeks of extreme cold, locals were making full use of their coal fire places to keep warm. December 5, 1952 started off clear enough but as the day went on, the fog became progressively worse. It went from a medium fog to an awful yellow as industrial smokestacks and domestic chimneys continuously belched out their smoke.

A high pressure system lurking over London created a temperature inversion. Basically this means that the warm air above the cold surface air effectively trapped the smoke at ground level. Given the fires raging nonstop, this smog quickly accumulated and developed into a thick sulphuric, life threatening smog that stretched for 30 miles and remained for about five days.

All transportation, with the exception of the Underground, ground to a halt, children were kept home from school and the fog gave a perfect cover for criminals who increased their activity during this disaster. Sporting events were called off and animals were in distress, including 11 award winning heifers in town for the famous Smithfield Show who choked to death.

The noxious fog even penetrated buildings and local theatre had to close down at the time as patron could simply not see the screen. The East End death rate in the increased nine fold with babies and the elderly being affected the most and there was a huge increase in cases of bronchitis and pneumonia. Death became so common that local undertakers soon ran out of coffins. A cold westerly wind eventually provided relief from the deadly smog on December 9, pushing it out over the North Sea.

Sadly, the after effects of the poisonous air were still felt for some time as the illness and death rate continued for many months. Some experts put the total death rate from this tragic incident at about 12,000. The only good thing to come of the incident is that after investigation by the British government, Clean Air Act was finally passed by government in 1956.