Sixty years ago this week, London was in the grip of perhaps the deadliest fog in its history. The air was thick yellow, with sulphur dioxide levels ten times higher than usual. Visibility was reduced to 20 yards, sometimes less.
Not surprisingly, transport came to a standstill, and the smog even got inside buildings so that a performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre had to be abandoned because the audience couldn’t see the stage.
The foul air was estimated to have caused the deaths of up to 12,000 Londoners, and the government set up an inquiry to try and prevent anything like it happening again. The result was the Clean Air Act of 1956, which improved things dramatically.
Now the Clean Air in London campaign is complaining that Mayor Boris Johnson has been quietly lobbying to dilute European rules on air standards in spite of a report in 2010 which said that 4,300 Londoners a year were still dying because of poor air quality in the capital.
*You can read more about the 1952 smog in my book London’s Disasters. It also features the Regent’s Park skating disaster, recalled in a fascinating series on London’s lesser known disasters on the Londonist website - http://londonist.com/2012/11/londons-forgotten-disasters-ice-skating-tragedy-in-regents-park.php