A True History

The Great Smog of London

Recently, I found myself with some free time (I know, what’s that?) and started binge watching The Crown on Netflix. It scratches my History itch while also entertaining me. Not that I don’t love straight up documentaries, but sometimes during my free time I just want to enjoy something fun.

I’d never really studied much about the English monarchy in recent history so there was a lot that was new to me while I was watching this. One of the cool things I noticed while watching the show was that in Episode 4 a smog enveloped London. Apparently that was a real thing that happened in London in 1952! It was called the Great Smog of 1952 (I know – not very original) and it happened for about a week (December 5th to December 9th). However, it was fascinating to me because I’d always heard that London had a tendency to be covered in fog anyway and at that point it was up to an extreme! According to some of the research I did right after the episode, even some of the Londoners didn’t think much of it because London was usually full of smog. It wasn’t until it got really bad that people started to take notice. In fact, it got so bad and so thick that people couldn’t even see to the other side of the road; people who were commuting would park their cars in the road and walk home because that was easier than driving!

Thousands of people died in this fog. Upwards of 12,000 people died because of the smog, or because of health issues that the smog brought on, or because of the uptick in crime that occurred because people thought they could get away with it. To be fair, they kind of could. I heard of one account of a sixteen year old girl getting stabbed in the back in the middle of the street and she never found out who did it.

The craziest thing to me about this didn’t come from my research, it came from actually watching The Crown! I thought Winston Churchill’s reaction was fascinating. If you didn’t know, he was the Prime Minister at the time and his reaction about the smog on The Crown he reminded me of a current-day climate denier. He smiled and visited the people who came down with illnesses due to the smog which greatly helped his popularity amongst the people, but he didn’t think of it as too out of the ordinary and didn’t think it had anything to do with what was happening in London at the time. When I did end up doing research on it though I couldn’t find much information about Winston Churchill’s actual reaction so it’s quite possible the whole thing was dramatized, but I thought it was really interesting anyway!

This fog did lead to the Clean Air Act of 1956! Which was a great step in the right direction and definitely helped make it so there wasn’t another occurrence like that ever again. The Clean Air Act of 1956 restricted the burning of coal which was believed to be a major issue that led to the smog.

What I did find out during my research of it, was that in 2016 the topic of the Great Smog of 1952 became an important topic again. A team of global Scientists announced they finally solved the mystery of that smog. Sulfate from burning coal was absolutely a huge factor, but it was because of sulfur dioxide from power plants as well as ammonia from fertilizer and vehicles mixing together. Those two chemicals ended up coming together in a really deadly way to create a highly acidic fog.

I definitely recommend checking out The Crown! I especially enjoy shows that give a good jumping off point for Historical research. I never would have known about the Great Smog had I not heard of it through that show.