chapter
24 Pages

Waste and inefficiency

The second of the story-lines that conferred symbolic meaning to the production of smoke reflected the values and beliefs of a largely middle-class, educated and professional elite, who, rather than viewing smoke as signifYing prosperity and progress, saw the columns of sulphurous black smoke as 'barbarous' signs of waste and inefficiency. Doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, clerics, and others from the burgeoning professional ranks, along with several ofManchester's leading merchants and manufacturers, all promoted this sceptical alternative narrative. From the 1840s on, many reformers banded together to form anti-smoke societies in the city, among which were the Manchester Association for the Prevention of Smoke (1842) and the Manchester and Salford Noxious VapoursAbatement Association (1876). The anti -pollution activists challenged entrenched cultural values and beliefs about Manchester's 'productive' smoke by holding public meetings against air pollution; by regularly inviting leading 'experts' to lecture on the subject; by testing and exhibiting smoke abatement technology; and by publishing articles and letters in newspapers, magazines, and journals.99 Coal smoke, according to this story line, meant a failure to make profitable use of valuable and finite natural resources and a reckless waste of irrecoverable energy. Smoke meant the needless defacement and destruction of the city's buildings and green spaces, it signified an unnecessary and preventable loss oflife and health, and, finally, it represented a serious threat to Manchester, Britain, and empire. The narrative that smoke was synonymous with waste was a denser, more complex response to the dilemma posed by smoke pollution and was conveyed in considerably fewer, and often less accessible, texts. However, although much of what follows is reconstructed from sources that did not enjoy an extensive popular readership, these narratives were widely disseminated in both the local and national presses.