As I look out of my office window, all I can see today is hoar frost and freezing fog. It looks very beautiful but also very cold – and very treacherous!
In the early nineteenth century it was the winter fog as much as the ice and snow that created problems for our forebears. The bad weather of 1813/1814 started with a dense fog that lay over London on the 27th December. Travelling was almost impossible. One of the Prince Regent’s outriders fell in a ditch at Kentish Town on a journey to visit the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield House. The entire party turned around and returned to Carlton House. Many hackney carriages veered off the road, the Maidenhead Coach overturned injuring several passengers and the Birmingham Mail could not get further than Uxbridge.
In November 1833, Richard Rush wrote of the London fogs:
“The fog was so thick that the shops in Bond Street had lights at noon. I could not see people in the street from my windows. I am tempted to ask, how the English became great with so little daylight? It seems not to come fully out until nine in the morning, and immediately after four it is gone.
On the 22nd of the month, accidents occurred all over London, from a remarkable fog. Carriages ran against each other, and persons were knocked down by them at the crossings. The whole gang of thieves seemed to be let loose. After perpetrating their deeds, they eluded detection by darting into the fog. It was of an opake, dingy yellow. Torches were used as guides to carriages at mid-day, but gave scarcely any light through the fog. I went out for a few minutes. It was dismal.”
The combination of poor weather and the smoke from coal fires created the “London Particular.” Thick shrouds of black fog could envelop London for days and weeks. The fogs were dangerous for Londoners and hundreds died of asthma and other breathing difficulties caused by the condition. Dickens used the phrase “London Particular” in Bleak House to describe the fog and in 1871 a correspondent from the New York Times described “a fog of the consistency of pea soup.” Pea soup was subsequently re-named as “London Particular” in a rare example of soup imitating life!