Dense Fog In London

As people across London prepared to bid farewell to 1888 – the year of Jack the Ripper – temperatures across the country plummetted dramatically, and a dense fog descended over London.


The London Evening Standard, on Tuesday, 1st January, 1889, looked back on the conditions that had brought London to a virtual standstill on the last day of 1888:-

“The sudden change of temperature which set in pretty generally on Sunday over the British Islands was due to the appearance within our area of an anticyclone, with higher readings of the barometer than of late, and the air, over England especially, was very still, owing to the mercury being uniformly high at all stations.

These conditions were accompanied by a thick fog, which was very dense yesterday over the whole of the Metropolis.

The mast of a ship seen in a fog on the River Thames.
The Foggy River


In the City the morning was very dark, and artificial light had to be resorted to both indoors and out, the street lamps being alight as at night.

The fog was also very dense in the suburbs.

At Brixton, Clapham, and the other southern suburbs it was thick throughout the day, and at times it was impossible to see a distance of even half a dozen yards.

In the North of London, as well as in the more central districts, the fog, however, lifted considerably in the afternoon, and in the City the atmosphere was comparatively clear.

The hoar frost, however, which coated the housetops, as well as the footways in unfrequented parts, remained unthawed throughout the day, and in places resembled greatly that of a fresh fall of snow.


Very little fog was reported yesterday from other parts of the United Kingdom, except over Central England, and the dense fog to which we were subjected in London extended but a very little distance beyond the Metropolitan area, it being very noticeable that the delay in the train service was limited chiefly to the trains leaving London, those arriving from the country keeping fairly good time.


So dense did the fog become at half-past seven last night that carriage traffic in the City, the West-end, and both the Northern and Southern parts of the Metropolis became practically suspended, or, where attempted to be carried on, was conducted with danger and difficulty.

In great centres of traffic, such as Holborn-circus, Ludgate-circus, and London Bridge, the cries and shouts of the drivers of cabs, omnibuses, and waggons created great sensation and confusion amongst those pedestrians who were trying to get over the crossings.


In Farringdon- road and Farringdon-street, the obstruction and disorganisation of the traffic were much aggravated by the presence in the thoroughfare of droves of cattle and sheep, which were being driven from the Islington Market. Some sheep were fatally injured in Farringdon-street, close to the Circus, by a van driving over them.


Cab drivers promptly took down one of the cab lamps from its place, and, using it as a hand-lamp, led their horses along by its light.

Link-boys were at many of the City crossings by eight o’clock, and earned many coppers by guiding people, mostly those returning home from work, across the streets safely through the lines of horses and vehicles, which were going along at a crawling pace.


London Bridge was blocked a for a considerable time, and at either side, at King William-street and the Borough, long lines of vehicles stood, the drivers not daring to move their horses.

On some of the omnibus routes, the vehicles were taken off, and gentlemen from the City offered high figures to cabmen for conveyance westward.


As soon as the really dangerous condition of the thoroughfares was realised, additional men of the police force – Metropolitan and City – were sent out on duty for the protection of both of life and property.

At nine o’clock the fog became less dense, but there was every indication that it would continue in the Metropolis throughout the night.


Brixton-road was wrapt in a dismal shroud, and the drivers of the various Blackfriars, Westminster, and Lord Wellington tramcars had to descend and lead their horses after passing Kennington Park, where the fog was not quite so dense.


One of the Brixton yellow cars was run into, and had to be taken off the line; fortunately, none of the passengers was injured.

At St. Thomas’s and Guy’s Hospitals a number of accidents were surgically treated by the staff.


The traffic on the various Metropolitan Railways was seriously impeded, and fog signals became a necessity.

On the South-Eastern Railway, at the Waterloo Junction, a number of passengers were delayed at a quarter-past one o’clock, when the following notice was placed in prominent places:- “Passengers are respectfully informed that in consequence of the fog some of the suburban trains are withdrawn, and others altered in working.”

Every effort was made to run the trains with as little delay as possible.


At a quarter-past seven o’clock, at Kennington and Brixton, it was beyond description to depict the shifts to which the people were put to find their way home.

There were constant personal collisions, and the cabs were led along by their drivers with torches in hand.”


The Lancaster Gazette captured the general confusion that the New Year’s Eve fog had brought to London in the following article, which was published on Wednesday 2nd January, 1889:-

“The traffic of London was on Monday placed at the mercy of one of the densest fogs that have been recorded.

Commencing at four o clock in the morning the fog asserted itself throughout the day in various degrees of density, and at night it combined with the ordinary darkness to place the metropolis in confusion.

Vehicular traffic was in a large measure suspended, and in cases where it was necessarily carried on it was attended with considerable risk.

Pedestrians too groped about inquiring their way, and street dealers obtained money for the loan of lanterns.”


According to the following article, which appeared in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer on Wednesday, 2nd January, 1889, conditions hadn’t improved that much on New Year’s Day, 1889:-

“Except snow, nothing dislocates the life of a great town like fog, and London till midday yesterday had “fogged up” within an ace of suffocation.

The streets were as black as a pocket.

You could not walk along the main thoroughfares, cabs could only crawl step by step, at the risk of collision at every step, all the trains were late, and the mass of people ran the serious risk of asphyxia.


Here and there it is said the sun seemed to triumph, if only for a moment, and in some spots you could walk out of Egyptian darkness into sunlight as clear and bright as that upon the King’s Road at Brighton.

The fog, for instance, came down to Ludgate Circus, and the sun shone on Ludgate Hill.

At night the Avenue Theatre was undiscoverable, while half-way across the river the fog suddenly ceased.


But at midday yesterday the cloud suddenly cleared away, leaving the air sharp and crisp.

When at its worst (our London tells us) the mist was decidedly the most dangerous that has been encountered in recent years.

It was the more dangerous because it occasionally cleared off, and the deceptive intervals of brightness created confidence which the real conditions were far from warranting.”


The early days of 1889 fared little better, as far as the fog in London went, and, on Wednesday, 2nd January, 1889, The Bradford Daily Telegraph, reported that the weather, and the fog, had taken a turn for the worse:-

“A black fog spread ever London this morning, worse oven than that of last night, and from an early hour, railway traffic was seriously impeded.

In the streets, omnibuses and other conveyances could only get about with difficulty.”