In 1952 A Strange Phenomenon Killed 12,000 People In London. This Is The Story Of That Day!


Smog is a composite of smoke and fog and London is no stranger to smog. They have been plagued with mists and fog for centuries. Londoners who are used to living in a city full of pea soup fogs were not shocked to find themselves surrounded by thick smog , but nothing could live up to the smog that engulfed the streets of London in December 5th 1952. It was unlike any fog the city has ever experienced.  London was encroached in the throes of great smog that lasted five day and wreaked havoc in the streets of London. The fog was so thick that it bought roads, rails and any other mode of transport in London to a virtual halt. The fog when finally lifted in December 9th left innumerable deaths in its wake and shocked the world into starting an environmental movement.

Image Source: BBC News

On Friday December 5th Londoners awoke to greet a cold day. The weather had turned for the worse and in order to abate the chill they did what they’ve always done, they burned a staggering amounts of coal in their homes. Smoke was seen rising out of their chimneys. And the factories worked overtime to establish a similar feet.  As they had faced this adversary a number of times in the past, they didn’t bide their time to dwell on the repercussions. To them it was just another snowy day in London. Under normal circumstances the smoke would rise up and dissipate but an anticyclone was looming over the horizon. This pushes air downwards, warming it as it descends resulting in an inversion, where the air closer to the ground is much cooler than the air above it thus trapping the smoke in between. When this comes in contact with the fog the air turns toxic. In addition to smoke from the chimneys, the inversion of 1952 also trapped the particles and gases emitted by the factories in London thus sealing their fate.

Clear skies dawned on London In the early hours of December 5th and the air was moist, it was an ideal day for the formation of radiation fog. By afternoon the fog had turned into a sickly shade of yellow by cohabiting with the soot that was being pumped into the skies of London by its cluster of chimneys and industrial smoke stacks. This quickly turned into a poisonous brew concocted in the streets of London and enveloped the city in its death trap. The air was so dense that the residents were unable to see their feet as they walked. London was paralyzed in its wake. Virtually City life seized to exist since it proved futile to operate under these dire circumstances. Authorities advised the citizens not to venture outside and were confined to their homes. The smoke seemed to penetrate inside as well. It seeped in through movie theaters and buildings. The yellow haze appeared to have materialized everywhere.

The great smog wasn’t just colossally inconvenient, it turned lethal as swept through London like hay fire leaving tragedy in its wake. Babies, elderly and people with respiratory and cardiovascular ailments suffered the most. Death came silently in London. The death toll wasn’t instantaneous. It wasn’t until they started running out of coffins and flowers, when grievous aftermath of the smog was realized. Initially the numbers were estimated to be around 4000 but in the later weeks reports started to surface estimating the death toll at 12000. The death toll was shocking. Pollution which many thought to be a part of city life had turned deadly and killed 12000 people. Londoners were bereft, unable to fathom the effects of the deadly smog.

The devastating loss paved way for some pertinent changes. The lesson came at a great price paid by the innocent lives lost to the lethal smog. The death toll of the great smog seemed to have set precedence to modern environmentalism. It enabled them to rethink their stance on environmental laws and set an impetus for the generations to abide by. The horrors of the smog evoked the parliament to pass the clean air act in 1956.  New regulations were implemented restricting the use of dirty fuel in the industries and banning black smoke. Home owners received grants to covert from using coal to alternative heating systems like using gas fires to emit minimal smoke. However the problem still persisted and fogs continued to be smoky for a while. The smog in 1962 wiped out 750 people. The situation ensued in the coming years but none as abhorrent as the great smog of 1952. Over the years people of London have been adhering to the new legislative laws and modern improvements such as central heating so not to fall back on their disruptive ways. This kind of lethal smog has become the thing of the past.