London Fog: The Biography by Christine L Corton - review by Catherine Peters

Catherine Peters

‘Stink and Darknesse’

London Fog: The Biography


Harvard University Press/Belknap Press 391pp £22.95 order from our bookshop

Can a climatic phenomenon have a biography? Christine Corton makes a good case for London fog, the ‘London Particular’ that dominated the winter existence of Londoners for several centuries, infiltrating life, literature and art. Her fascinating history traces London’s unique brand of photochemical smog from its surprisingly early birth in the 13th century, when complaints about the burning of ‘sea coal’ in London hearths began, through its malign maturity in the 19th, to its death throes in the second half of the 20th. During its long lifetime, it killed an incalculable number of people, animals, trees and plants. It is estimated that a single episode, the killer smog of 1952, which was one of the last, longest and worst, caused or largely contributed to the deaths of up to twelve thousand people.

London, like many ancient cities, sits in a river basin, and it was the fog rising from the river in cold, still weather and meeting the smoke from coal fires that created ‘smog’, as it was later called. In 1661 John Evelyn, lover of trees and gardens, wrote Fumifugium, a

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