Great Smog of 1952, London, England

Great Smog of 1952, London, England


Image part of the Getty Collection

The Great Smog, began on December 5, 1952, in London, England and lasted 4-5 days. It was one of London’s most severe, if not the worst, air-pollution events. The city was very familiar with smog and therefore it wasn’t seen as a concern in the first few days of the smog. The last major smog event, prior to this, was in December 1873 and saw the death rate increase by 40%.  

Medical reports in the weeks following the event stated otherwise. People with chronic lung diseases had excess mortality and it is estimated that between 7,000 and 14,000 people died and many tens of thousands were made ill. There were many contributing factors to this event including cold weather, windless conditions and airborne pollutants such as coal, which has a high sulphur dioxide content. During The Great Smog, all forms of public transportation, apart from the London Underground, were cancelled. The paramedic service also stopped functioning, leaving many to try and get themselves to the hospital. The smoke even made its way indoors and as a result many events were cancelled.

Some sources say that it is the worst air-pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom. The Great Smog led to the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1956.