Tuesday, December 07, 2010

London Particular

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!


sarah mallory said...

With the Clean Air Act it is difficult for us now to imagine just how awful the smog created by chimneys must have been. Up here in the Pennines many mill owners built their houses up on the hills so that they above the pollution created by their own factory chimneys!

Louise Allen said...

Even the non-smoggy fogs could be lethal. I've just been reading a newspaper report of an inquest on a gentleman killed in 1800 when the Portsmouth mail overturned in thick fog.

Nicola Cornick said...

I should think the combination of fog and smoke must have been truly appalling, Sarah. I remember my grandmother telling me how bad it was in the northern industrial towns even in the early 20th century.

Louise, it makes you realise how dangerous travel could be with such hazards. It's bad enough now in cars with headlights!

sarah mallory said...

I believe it was common practice for travellers to write their will before enbarking upon a coach journey! Some people still do that today before air travel.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Great post, Nicola.

Nice to see Richard Rush get a mention! What I really like about him is that, being American, he explains things that an English writer would take for granted that his readers knew. He tells you what the insides of houses looked like, for example: what furniture they had and where.

Jan Jones said...

Interesting post, Nicola. What I hate about being out in fog is the sense of alone-ness. You can't see whether anyone is there or not. And you can't hear them either. Fog muffles all the senses. Scary.

Nicola Cornick said...

Goodness,Sarah, I think that if I felt that worried I simply wouldn't go (on either the carriage or the aeroplane!) And I thought I was a nervous traveller!

Elizabeth, it's always interesting to get that other perspective, isn't it. It feels a step away from teh familiar and I like that.

Jan, I agree that the fog can be very scary. Hence all those Victorian stories set in the London fog, I suppose. Real chillers!

Thank you for the comments, everyone.