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Most Googled: why is London called the ‘Big Smoke’?


We might be experiencing dangerously high levels of pollution right now, but be grateful you weren’t around to witness the pea-souper fogs of the nineteenth century. The capital’s nickname dates back to that period, first appearing in an 1874 dictionary of slang. And things were a hell of a lot worse back then (cheers, the Industrial Revolution). 

‘It was a popular term among visitors from rural areas,’ says Alex Werner, head of history collections at the Museum of London. ‘As they approached London they saw a thick smoke enveloping the city, which was largely caused by the burning of coal.’ And it was a long time before things improved, as Alex explains: ‘Only in 1956 with the introduction of the Clean Air Act – which stipulated that only smokeless fuels could be burnt in towns and cities – did London finally cease to be the Big Smoke.’ So we should all probably breathe a sigh of relief. Not too deep, mind.

And while we’re at it: why does London get a Christmas tree from Norway?

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