A Foggy Day in London Town

Where Are We?

By Ted Blowers

In 1952, London was hit with its worst fog in history - by the time it was finished it had taken 10,000 lives. Fogs, of course, were not uncommon; we had always had them. What made this one different was the fact that there was an inversion of temperatures, keeping in place and trapping the particles of pollution, from chimneys and factories which would normally have dissipated. This created a deadly soup of toxic chemicals which was given the new label of 'smog' and caused the government to take drastic action. Over a period of time, everybody was converted from coke to Clean Glow, a form of coke with a little more gas left in so that it wasn’t so difficult to light and gave a little more flame. It was resented by many as we loved our coal fires. However, it was compulsory so we had no choice and in the end I think  the majority agreed that it was a much better fuel. They did the city in sections so I took a little time and, though we still get fogs, they are seldom like the old ones.

There are two things I remember about the 1952 smog (which lasted for days incidentally). First, I went to the pictures at the Gaumont. It was fine when I went in - when I came out I couldn’t believe it. The doors opened into the swirling, yellow mist. You could hardly see your hand in front of your face and you had to listen carefully to make sure there was no traffic in close vicinity before you crossed the road into St Bennetts Grove, once I had crossed Robertsbridge Road onto the field, which, as you couldn’t see anything, was really hazardous. I found my way to Paisley Road, by which time my throat was burning - not nice at all.

The only way to see in fog is with a naked flame. Soon some of the boys had made torches of one sort or another which would burn for some time, and were running in relays in front of the buses going to Sutton, then picking up a bus in Sutton to come back. The idea worked as  the passengers were only too happy to make a slight contribution tipping us for our efforts. Had this not been done I don’t think the buses would have moved at all -  as it was they could only go as fast as we could trot.

 There was another fog in 1958 which was also bad, though this one had much less pollution. It was very difficult to see as it was really thick and I remember going to Rosehill and having to be very careful about how to cross the road outside the hospital. Even your hearing seems to get disorientated and, though listening intently for the traffic, it was very hard to know from which direction it was coming.

 As bad as they were, I can remember one in the blackout which I think was worse, maybe not from the pollution point of view, but certainly from the density or maybe just because it was pitch black anyway. We had learnt that one good thing about the fog was that there certainly wouldn’t be any raids that night. We knew that naked flame was the only way you could see, so we would get candles in jam jars, or my favourite, which was a tin mug with a candle inside stuck close to the front the handle of the mug at the bottom so you could hold it pointing downwards without hot wax being dripped on you. This cleared an area of about 3 feet more or less in a circle, so, with a bit of luck, you could find your way around as long as you knew where you were when you started of course. Candles in jars were okay except they tended to burn your fingers, nor did they direct the light downwards. Torches were useless;  I remember coming across couples kneeling on the pavement trying to spell the letters of the street names on the corner of the street.  I know it sounds far-fetched but it’s absolutely true.


This page was added by Ted Blowers on 28/05/2014.
Comments about this page

Smog  1952

It was a year before I joined the Navy. My Nan had been visiting us in Green Wrythe Lane and I had to get her home in Waddon, a few miles walk and across Beddington Park. The "youngman" full of bravado I convinced my Mum and Nan that I could find my way around in the fog  no problem.  It was OK until we were nearing Beddington Church and the river that I lost the path and almost walked my Nan(nearly 70) into the river Wandle. Being in the lead and it was me that slipped down the bank. My poor old Nan, I hate to think how she felt, I know that I was quaking. We did eventually arrive at my Nan's home safely.

I had a nice cup of tea and a piece of her bread pudding with Nan and then went home (in the fog). 

By Ron Christian
On 09/08/2016

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