Air time


I don’t often stop to think about the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. But my train stopped beside a litter strewn derelict site with crumbling brick arches. The overhanging brickwork was covered in thick black soot.

When I was a child all the older buildings in every city were covered in soot. I remember streaked black stone and grime which would come off on your hand if you trailed it along the wall as you walked past. Perhaps you are too young to remember this – all the cities blackened? It wasn’t that long ago.

I also remember prestigious public buildings being covered behind scaffolding and plastic sheets while workmen noisily sandblasted off the black muck.

I’m guessing that the workmen with sandblasters came after 1968 when it became illegal for factories to churn out smoke “darker than shade 2 on the ringelmann chart”. Before then it would have been pointless to attempt to clean the stonework.

I wonder where the rest of the soot went. I don’t remember every building being cleaned, but today they all seem pretty soot-free. Did the rain wash it off once the chimneys stopped billowing?

You don’t see buildings covered in soot these days. You can lean absentmindedly on a wall and not get dark smudges on your clothes. That is because of the Clean Air Acts.

We quickly forget what it used to be like. Perhaps today’s children will blog in 40 years time about how cars used to emit carbon dioxide.

4 Responses to “Air time”

  1. I remember all the scaffolding around norwich cathedral when they cleaned that up, ahem, some years ago. Couldn’t believe the difference it made, worth looking at some old photos to see how dark and brooding it looked at times.

  2. 2 Steve M

    As a baby boomer, brought up in the industrial areas of Birmingham, I clearly recall walking to school in the filthy smog, having to stay indoors on the really bad days, the new “Smokeless” coal. I’d assumed that most of the town (the centre of B’ham was always called “Town”) was made out of some strange black stone, before being largely replaced by dreadful, brutal concrete monstrosities in the 1960’s, until many years later when I noticed a lovely red stone appearing between the black sootiness on St Martins church in Digbeth.

  3. 3 Ann

    Slightly off on a tangent, my father was recently reminiscing about how he used to clean his paint brushes with petrol. £1.50 a litre for brush cleaner? (never mind the health & safety implications!)

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