10 facts about the Great Smog of London in 1952

News Shopper: Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London, during the Great Smog of 1952. Photo: N T Stobbs Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London, during the Great Smog of 1952. Photo: N T Stobbs

The Great Smog took over London on this day in 1952.

Lasting for four days and having profound effects on the lives of Londoners, the ‘Big Smoke is regarded as the worst ever air pollution in this country.

Here are 10 facts about the Great Smog of ‘52 which you might not know:

  • The smog occurred after a period of cold snowy weather. It resulted in people burning low-quality sulphurous coal to stay warm. Around the same time an anticyclone was hanging over London which trapped cold air and chimney smoke close to the ground.
  • Particles and gasses from power stations, vehicle exhausts and industrial pollution blown over from Europe were also trapped.
  • Pollutants included carbon dioxide, hydrochloric acid, fluorine compounds and 800 tonnes of sulphur dioxide.
  • The yellow-black coloured smog did not disperse due to windless conditions.
  • With visibility reduced to just a few yards, effects of the smog included major disruption to public transport, emergency services and outdoor sports events.
  • A rise in crime was reported, with crooks using the blanket of fog to burgle properties and rob people struggling to get around.
  • Smog masks were could be bought from chemists.
  • It was reported at the time the smog had caused between 4,000 and 6,000 death, though more recent studies put the toll at around 12,000. The victims were very young, elderly and people with respiratory or heart problems.
  • Press reports claimed cattle at Smithfield had been asphyxiated by the smog.
  • The lethal smog prompted new regulations on fuels and emissions to reduce air pollution and a push to get homeowners to adopt alternative heat sources such as gas fires.

Do you have any worries about London’s air pollution today? Is enough being done to keep the city clean? Add your comments below.

Comments (3)

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11:54am Thu 5 Dec 13

goldenbroomboy says...

1952 was before my time, I can recall a few smogs in the early sixties, the last one being in 1964. Those smogs are unlikely to be repeated since coal fires are rare today.
1952 was before my time, I can recall a few smogs in the early sixties, the last one being in 1964. Those smogs are unlikely to be repeated since coal fires are rare today. goldenbroomboy

12:11pm Thu 5 Dec 13

Indigenous UK Pensioner. says...

I REmber it well matey. Coffin me guts out, no wonder me lungs are no good nah. Ya could not see to light up ya fags it was so bad.

THanK yoU
I REmber it well matey. Coffin me guts out, no wonder me lungs are no good nah. Ya could not see to light up ya fags it was so bad. THanK yoU Indigenous UK Pensioner.

8:21pm Fri 6 Dec 13

Alan JB says...

We were allowed to go home from work at midday - I was working at Beckton Products Works in the East End at that time. It was still bright and one could see patches of blue sky above the acrid smog. The only way I could find my way home was to walk along the pavement one foot in the gutter and one foot on the curb like a child. There were instances where you could not see your hand in front of your face - literally. While walking along in this manner I actually bumped into a parked car and nearly fell over. There was no traffic moving at all and at crossroads large acetylene burners had been set-up to try to disperse the smog, with not much effect.
At other times during bad smogs these acetylene burners were actually placed in large shops such as the Co-op in East Ham - the smog was so pervasive.
We were allowed to go home from work at midday - I was working at Beckton Products Works in the East End at that time. It was still bright and one could see patches of blue sky above the acrid smog. The only way I could find my way home was to walk along the pavement one foot in the gutter and one foot on the curb like a child. There were instances where you could not see your hand in front of your face - literally. While walking along in this manner I actually bumped into a parked car and nearly fell over. There was no traffic moving at all and at crossroads large acetylene burners had been set-up to try to disperse the smog, with not much effect. At other times during bad smogs these acetylene burners were actually placed in large shops such as the Co-op in East Ham - the smog was so pervasive. Alan JB

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