5 Pages

Smoke and architecture

The very birds of the air are tarred with this universal tar brush ... a Leeds magpie, shot near Stainbeck Lane, ... bears evident signs of his town residence. Not only are the white feathers badly discoloured, but there is a striking absence of the gloss and beautiful iridescence of the black ones, visible in [the] country magpie. 164

Moreover, a working class child from London, confronted by an unsoiled avifauna when taking a rare holiday in the countryside, remarked, The birds are notlike ourn they are light brown.' 165 The murk of the Victorian city, however, proved beneficial for at least one urban species - the melanic form of the peppered moth, Biston betularia. As smoke killed the lichens that provided protective cover for the pale coloured typicals, blackening tree trunks and the walls of buildings, the dark peppered moth became the predominant type in Manchester. Initially few in numbers, the first melanic specimens were not caught in the city until 1848. By 1895 the black type was prevalent, with the white form making up only two per cent of Manchester's peppered moth population. Only after smoke control began in earnest in 1952, and buildings were cleaned and lichens started to return, was there a resurgence of the typical variety in the heart of the city.166 The' smoke nuisance' affected every living thing in nineteenth century Manchester, substantially changing and depleting its flora and avifauna, and turning those organisms which endured a depressing shade of black. Furthermore, the polluted quality of the atmosphere posed a very similar set of problems with regard to the built environment.