Notes from 19th Century Birmingham

Total solar eclipse from Cape Tribulation, Queensland

Did you see the eclipse today (March 20th, 2015)? Or was it obscured by cloud?

In Victorian Birmingham, the eclipse of 1858 was observed through cloud and what we would now describe as ‘smog’. Smoke pollution, more often associated with the large factory towns of the North, was also a significant problem in Birmingham from early in the nineteenth century. It had been highlighted as a feature of the town by Mr. Pickwick (in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, serialised in 1836), describing the volumes of dense smoke issuing heavily forth from high toppling chimneys, blackening and obscuring everything around’. The town’s various authorities had taken some measures against the ‘nuisance’, introducing bye-laws and very occasional prosecutions of the most persistent perpetrators. But they seemed reluctant to interfere in local business and the pollution prevailed through much of the century.

The extract here is taken from a letter to the editor of 

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