chapter
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Accommodating smoke

Of all the factors that shaped nineteenth-century industrial cities and nineteenth-century urban life, few have been as influential-and as undervaluedas the 'smoke nuisance'. Manchester's burgeoning smoke cloud, in combination with its damp climate, prevailing south-west winds, and flat physical setting, affected every aspect of urban life, from the location of industry and middle-class housing to the drab colours of home decor and people's apparel. By the 1870s the region was so polluted that the smoke was palpable to the senses even in the countryside surrounding the industrial towns of south-east Lancashire. The urban smoke cloud, denser in winter than in summer, seriously damaged, among other things, vegetation, buildings, and the people's health. The effects on health, however, could not be proven beyond all doubt as chronic respiratory diseases have a complex aetiology. Similarly, smoke-filled fogs, which raised death rates significantly in urban-industrial districts, did not have the same dramatic impact on contemporaries as an outbreak of fever. Fogs tended to kill people who were already sick or vulnerable, whose deaths were not entirely unexpected. Town dwellers faced the acrid smoke daily, and although complaints about the polluted environment were commonplace, they slowly adapted to the harsh atmospheric conditions. Modern urban life tacitly evolved to accommodate the smoke of urban-industrial development. The city's architecture was designed with its smoke and soot in mind, while Manchester's public parks were regularly planted out with pollution-resistant species of vegetation. The city's inhabitants mitigated the effects of air pollution by spending far more time indoors, cultivating a taste for home comforts which substituted for the want of natural light and beauty out of doors.