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The Dark Age: Air Pollution in Urban-industrial Britain

Stephen Mosley

The first talk in the Leeds Cultural Conversations 2016/17 series coincided with the 60th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act.

Presented by Dr Stephen Mosley.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sulphurous black smoke billowing out from industrial and domestic chimneys dominated Britain’s cityscapes. Coal smoke was responsible for blackening urban architecture, blocking out sunlight, destroying vegetation and, not least of all, damaging people’s health. However, despite the tangible nature of this particular form of air pollution, it was not until 1956 that the public was willing to support the passage of a meaningful Clean Air Act (now widely considered to be an important milestone in environmental protection). This talk examined the complex cultural, technical, economic and political barriers to positive environmental change in Britain’s cities.

This event was part of the Leeds Cultural Conversations series, presented by Leeds Beckett University and Leeds City Council. Leeds Cultural Conversations are a series of monthly talks programmed by the Centre for Culture & the Arts at Leeds Beckett University. For more information on the series please visit