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The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City


Series: Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History

By: William M Cavert(Author)

284 pages, 3 b/w illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Oct 2017 | #236752 | ISBN-13: 9781107421318
Availability: Usually dispatched within 48 hours
NHBS Price: £22.99 $30/€26 approx
Hardback | Apr 2016 | #231721 | ISBN-13: 9781107073005
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £67.99 $89/€77 approx

About this book

The Smoke of London uncovers the origins of urban air pollution, two centuries before the industrial revolution. By 1600, London was a fossil-fuelled city, its high-sulfur coal a basic necessity for the poor and a source of cheap energy for its growing manufacturing sector. The resulting smoke was found ugly and dangerous throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, leading to challenges in court, suppression by the crown, doctors' attempts to understand the nature of good air, increasing suburbanization, and changing representations of urban life in poetry and on the London stage. Neither a celebratory account of proto-environmentalism nor a declensionist narrative of degradation, The Smoke of London recovers the seriousness of pre-modern environmental concerns even as it explains their limits and failures. Ultimately, Londoners learned to live with their dirty air, an accommodation that reframes the modern process of urbanization and industrial pollution, both in Britain and beyond.

"The Smoke of London takes its inspiration from environmental history to make a powerful contribution to our understanding of debates in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England about urbanisation, economic growth, and its environmental consequences [...] [The book] does forcibly show that debates about urban pollution long predate the nineteenth century and offers a fascinating window onto environmental attitudes in early modern England. Cavert's book is, then, a wide-ranging, nuanced, and thoughtful contribution to environmental, urban, and English history."
– Robert J. Mayhew, Journal of Historical Geography

"The Smoke of London will no doubt find undergraduate as well as specialist readers: it is snappily written, meticulously and helpfully footnoted and tackles historiographical debates in a range of fields with admirable clarity. A memorable anecdote frames each chapter, and gives a window into the breadth of research that sits behind the book's key arguments. Sensitive readings of literary sources are placed in a robust economic framework. Carefully explained statistics sit alongside weird and wonderful cases from the royal courts, in a potent blend of political, scientific, economic, industrial and social history, all under the 'environmental' umbrella. It is a brilliant book that deserves to be widely read."
– Andy Burn, Urban History

"An erudite study of the environmental price paid by the growth of early modern London, which looks to be repeated in present-day Beijing."
– Gillian Tindall, History Today


Prologue: the smoke of London

Part I. Transformations:
1. The early modernity of London
2. Fires: London's turn to coal, 1575–1775
3. Airs: smoke and pollution, 1600–1775

Part II. Contestations:
4. Royal spaces: palaces and brewhouses, 1575–1640
5. Nuisance and neighbours
6. Smoke in the scientific revolution

Part III. Fueling Leviathan:
7. The moral economy of fuel: coal, poverty, and necessity
8. Fueling improvement: development, navigation, and revenue
9. Regulations: policing markets and suppliers
10. Protections: the wartime coal trade

Part IV. Accommodations:
11. Evelyn's place: fumifugium and the royal retreat from urban smoke
12. Representations: coal smoke as urban life
13. Movements: avoiding the smoky city


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William M. Cavert is a historian of early modern Britain focusing on urban and environmental history, holding a PhD from Northwestern University, Illinois. He has published The Environmental Policy of Charles I: Coal Smoke and the English Monarchy, 1624-1640 in the Journal of British Studies, as well as related studies in Global Environment and Urban History. His work has been supported by grants from The Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, Northwestern University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of St Thomas, Minnesota, and by a fellowship at Clare College, Cambridge. His current research examines Britain during the Little Ice Age, focusing on cold winters, disasters, and relationships with animals.

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