by H. Laing Gordon, M.D.
Volume 11, 1900, pg. 54-56
Should an historian of the future lack a name for this, the nineteenth century which shall fitly suggest one of our leading characteristics, he may possibly consider the term--Century of Societies. Since railways, the telegraph and telephone began to bring distant towns and distant persons into closer contact, and the Press gradually grew in power, combination has certainly been one of our leading characteristics. Countless societies with general or particular objects in view have sprung up--some of them established apparently for a permanency, others only to attain one definite end and then disappear.
The Smoke Abatement Society has not a pretty title, but it has a useful and important object. The doctrine of open windows is preached nowadays by everyone who has at heart the health of the individual and of the community; indeed, the principle is in danger of ridicule when, as recently, over-zealous enthusiasts cry for houses with windows which cannot be shut because there is nothing to shut. But what enthusiast will dare to ask us, here in the Metropolis, to do without orthodox glass or to keep our windows even an inch open during the prevalence of a typical London fog? I feel sure that only an asthmatic who finds comfort in pea-soup fogs or who delights in the Underground Railway--and there are such people--could make such a demand.
Until our London fogs are abolished, or at least until the blackness is taken out of them, it will always be both unsafe and disagreeable to keep windows open all the year round. It is conceivable that an ingenious inventor might provide us with a patent fog-excluding open-window; but meanwhile it is wiser to look for the abolition of black and yellow fogs. Public opinion now begins to recognize that exciting as London fogs are, and provocative of much spontaneous wit on the part of cabby and bus driver, they are an actual disgrace, inasmuch as they produce preventable suffering.
It is now recognized that domestic chimneys combine to pollute the atmosphere and have a larger share in the production of our dismal fogs than mere factory chimneys. It is not necessary to go up in a balloon to realize this fact; It is a matter of calculation, Some sort of control is exercised over manufacturers and factory owners, and might well be more stringent. But no true Briton will submit to legislation aimed at his domestic fire, which is the centre of every picture of "Home, Sweet Home."
The density of our fogs might certainly be diminished by the substitution of a non-smoky fuel for coal in the domestic fire. Gas-fires are much employed in the suburbs, but gas-fire manufacturers are evidently lacking in inventive genius; certainly as yet no gas-fire has appeared which is a really efficient substitute for the coal fire. Anthracite coal is said to be a smokeless fuel, but is not in favour, nor is coke, Indeed, there is no substitute for the Englishman's beloved coal-fire, Of all the systems of heating dwelling-houses that by the introduction of warmed air is by far the most satisfactory. But it has a double disadvantage--it is out of the reach of the many and it implies the abolition of fires altogether.
If we adhere to coal fires it behoves us for the common good to contrive them so that they produce as little smoke as possible. No coal fire is completely smokeless, but to improve grates is a step in the right direction. Genuine slow-combustion grates, not "semi-slow" or other inferior articles, are valuable, if they adequately consume their own smoke or reduce it to a minimum.
But even the most ill-contrived, old-fashioned grate may be rendered less offensive in the matter of smoke by intelligent treatment. It has often been pointed out that a coal fire should never be allowed to get low; once it is red and bright it should be frequently replenished with a thin layer of coal on the top. To allow the fire to get low and then to heap coals upon it, is extravagant as well as objectionable; a large proportion of such coal instead of giving out warmth is converted into smoke and pollutes the atmosphere.
If the Smoke Abatement Society succeeds in persuading Londoners to employ methods or fuels which shall not appreciably pollute the air, and if thereby black and yellow fogs are banished, they will have gone far towards making the Metropolis more healthy as well as more beautiful.
Proofread Nov. 2023 by LNL
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