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Epilogue: Too Little, Too Late?

Towards the end of the First World War, Thomas Horsfall, the veteran antipollution campaigner, launched a vitriolic attack on the people of Manchester, who had conspicuously failed to lend their support to the smoke abatement movement. Speaking on the topic at the annual meeting of the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association in July 1918, Horsfall did not pull any punches in complaining that he and other activists had been 'working for an ignorant public that had been dismissed from school at too early an age to take an intelligent interest in the laws of physical and moral health' .1 Another commentator was equally scathing in arguing that public inaction was playing a major role in perpetuating the smoke problem:

The general public have suffered air poisoning for centuries without a protest, and they richly deserve all the disabilities and damage received therefrom. Had they protested and demanded that everything should be done that was practicable to prevent air poisoning, and threatened Members of Parliament that unless they did it, votes would be given to others who would, action would have been taken years ago. Parliament, receiving the public mandate, would have passed the necessary legislation and the Ministry of Health would have demanded that the local authorities should put in motion all the administrative machinery. But this has not been done, and the greatest of all the defaulters are the general public who have, on this great health question, been appallingly apathetic. 2

To frustrated reformers such as Horsfall, who by 1918 had been campaigning against the 'smoke nuisance' with little success for over forty years, the desire to brand most townspeople as ignorant or apathetic, or both, in order to explain away the lack of widespread support for the movement is understandable. After all, Manchester's reformers - and Horsfall in particular - had expended a considerable amount of time, effort and money over the years in propagating the message that smoke pollution was harmful 'matter out of place'.