Posted by: Didapper PJ2 DEC 2011
In 1661, the writer and diarist John Evelyn produced a pamphlet entitled “Fumifugium: or The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated, Together Withe some Remedies”. It was an attempt to persuade King Charles II and Parliament to tackle the devastating air pollution that affected the capital.
London had suffered from smog for some 400 years, but Evelyn was perhaps the first person to examine the issue seriously. He identified the causes of smog, documented its effects on people’s health and on the environment and offered possible solutions.
Evelyn wrote that the main problem was emissions from London’s many brewers, dyers, lime burners, salt boilers and soap makers, each of which polluted the air more than all of London’s domestic chimneys.
Evelyn had three main proposals for reducing air pollution. The first was to replace the city’s main fuel — low quality Newcastle coal — with wood, which was the cleanest fuel available at the time. He suggested importing wood from well-forested regions and also planting new forests.
The second proposal was to move London’s industries down the Thames valley, where the prevailing winds would blow their smoke out into the Channel.
The third proposal was to ring London with a green belt consisting of plantations of sweet-smelling shrubs interspersed with beds of fragrant flowers and herbs.
Nothing was done to implement Evelyn’s proposals, and smoggy days in London Town continued for the next 300 years. Finally, the Great Smog of 1952 stimulated the drafting of clean air legislation, but only after it was realised that five days of intense pollution had killed at least 4,000 Londoners and made 100,000 others ill with respiratory problems.
To mark the 350th anniversary of Evelyn’s essay the charity Environmental Protection UK has reprinted it in modern English. It is well worth reading.