© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London
One of London's less salubrious nicknames is 'The Big Smoke'. This smoke was initially cause by wood burning, and then coal. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, smoke from coal burning combined with local mist and fog to cause the famous London ‘pea-soupers’, fogs named for their thickness and colour.
In 1952, a particularly bad pea-souper called the Great Smog choked London for 5 days. The smog led to the death of at least 11,000 Londoners, with many more thousands becoming seriously ill. Politicians finally took note, and two years later the City of London Corporation introduced local legislation to ban the production of smoke in the Square Mile. Two years after that, the government followed suit with the national Clean Air Act 1956.
The Clean Air Acts were very effective in dealing with air pollution caused by the burning of coal. London slowly moved over to the use of natural gas, which is much cleaner. Power stations closed down. Electricity production, and its associated pollution, was moved out of London. The air was finally getting cleaner. Unfortunately the problem was very soon replaced by pollution from a different source, the motor vehicle.