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

Written by
Matt Breen

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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