Jump to content

The "Sulphurous Airs" of April 1881

Recommended Posts

  • Location: Irlam
  • Location: Irlam

    As some maybe aware back in the warm June of 1858, London was overwhelmed by the smell of untreated sewage that became known as the "Great Stink" of 1858 and this lead to the development of the sewage system after MPs started to refuse to attend Parliament because of the "poisonous airs".



    In 1881, there was another "Great Stink" when cold ESEly winds pulled in from continental Europe across the UK. Pollutants from the Ruhr industrial region and the Saar coalfields had become trapped under an inversion during late March


    The inversion eventually lifted and the pollutants from the Ruhr, Saar and from the pig farms of Alsace-Lorraine (then under German rule) spread ENEwards across northern France and the UK.

    By the first of April, the "sulphurous airs" had crossed the Channel into SE England. A smell of rotten eggs (from the high sulphur content in German coal) hung in the air for much of that day in and around London and the concern of the government was a repeat of the "Great Stink of 1858" especially with Mr Gladstone, the then Prime Minister. Queen Victoria was in residence at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight at the time when her walk around the grounds of her beloved home on the Isle of Wight was cut short by the smell. A furious Queen Victoria telegrammed Gladstone demanding action especially after what happened in 1858, when she was driven from London to Windsor Castle because of the "Great Stink". She made it clear that she would not be driven from Osborne House because of the "foul air" and that she was not amused. Gladstone contacted the Royal Society for an immediate investigation.

    It was noted that there was a definite edge to the "sulphorous airs" It reached Dover about 1am on the first of April, London by 3am, and moved ENEwards in an arc across southern England reaching a line from the Isle of Wight to the Wash about 5am. By 9am, it had spread across the whole of southern parts of the UK south of a line from Blackpool to the Humber with a pong of rotten eggs in the air.

    Thankfully, the "pong" lifted the next day as it became diffused but enough information was gathered by the Royal Society to conclude the origin of the "smell" was from the industrial heartlands of the German Empire. Gladstone, after consultation with the Cabinet, contacted the German Chancellor Bismarck after the French Premier Charles de Freycinet was concerned it could be a new weapon being developed "to pong out the enemy" with "noxious fumes". Bismarck reassured the French and British governments that no weapon was being developed by the German military to "pong" out the enemy.

    Edited by Mr_Data
    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    • Replies 1
    • Created
    • Last Reply

    Top Posters In This Topic

    Popular Days

    Top Posters In This Topic

    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

    • Create New...