No. 308: Royal Hospital Road, SW3
Ranelagh Gardens, Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3. Photo © Roger Dean 2011
Our Social Bees; or, Pictures of Town & Country Life, And Other Papers – Andrew Wynter, 1861:
Smoke we have always with us.
If we look out on a fine summer’s day from the top of the Crystal Palace for a view of the great metropolis, we naturally exclaim, “I see it; there is the smoke;” indeed, any picture of London without its dim canopy of soot would be as unrecognizable as would a portrait of Pope, Hogarth, or Cowper, without their well-known headgear.
This black and heavy cloud is supported by the 500,000 or 600,000 columns of smoke that arise from the 400,000 houses of London. In it we behold the great aërial coalfield, which contains annually no less than 200,000 tons of fuel that escapes from us up our chimneys. Escapes, did we say? Oh that it did, and that we never heard or saw more of it; but smoke, like a chicken, still returns to roost.
We do not allude to “those horrid blacks” that dance and waltz before our very eyes, and then maliciously plump down upon the ample page of some fine edition, or “squat” deliberately upon the most delicate distance of a sketch by Copley Fielding or Cox, but to those finer blacklets that invisibly permeate the air. If we look at any fracture through which a draught penetrates, a cracked window or a shrunken skirtingboard, we shall find that the edges are ragged, with a fine fringe of soot pointing towards the fireplace; this fact alone is enough to demonstrate that the air is charged both inside and outside our houses with a vast amount of infinitely divided carbon. If it is deposited in this manner by the mere friction of passing any object, we may imagine what irritation it must occasion to the human lungs, into which it is sucked 30 times in the minute, converting them, as it were, into a temporary coalscuttle, out of which we are perpetually compelled to shovel the obnoxious intruder with a cough. The effect upon vegetable life is still more striking; the plane, which annually throws off its greatcoat of soot, is the only tree which will flourish in London.