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Daily History

December 4 1952: London’s Great Smog


On December 4th, 1952, the “Great Smog” in London caused up to 12 000 deaths, and became the motivator behind a string of laws passed in Britain restricting the use of various fossil fuels hazardous to the atmosophere. The distinct fogginess of London has been around since the Industrial Revolution of the late 17th century. It has become one of the city’s unique characteristics, referred to as the “London particular” by many in the 19th century, and even noted in Charles DickensBleak House.

The great smog of 1952 was a result of an unusually cold fog descended on London in early December, causing many London citizens to burn more coal and other “dirty fuels” than usual. Like power outages when everyone turns on their air-conditioners at the beginning of summer, there was an overloading of power in London, causing the atmospher to be bombarded with black smoke and by December 5th, a thick smog that lasted until December 9th.

The five days that the smog lasted, roughly four thousand people died, and a further eight thousand are suspected to have died as a result of the continuing dense atmosphere even after the majority of the smog subseded. While it was too late for those who had already died, the British government attempted to ensure that the same thing did not occur again, passing the City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1954 and the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. The legislation banned emissions of black smoke and forced the used of smokeless fuels.

The effects of the “Londong particular” were felt as late as 1962, when a further 750 London citizens died due to smog, however due to legislation, the Great Smog has never reoccured on such a large scale.

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