Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was one of the most progressive thinkers and writers and activists of the late-19th, early 20th centuries. He was an early supporter of the Bristol Socialist Society and paid regular visits to the city. Now remembered and celebrated mostly for his support for libertarian socialism and gay politics, he also took up ‘green’ causes. Carpenter’s campaigns for smoke abatement have rarely been revisited. His serialised essay on the subject, ‘The Smoke-Dragon and How to Destroy it’, which first appeared in The Clarion in 1894, has never been republished until now.
Here ‘The Smoke-Dragon’ is accompanied by Stephen E. Hunt’s new essay on this unexplored area of Carpenter’s work. He finds that Carpenter can be credited with renewing the issue of smoke abatement in public debate during the late 19th century, and that the topic is of a piece with his broader thinking about social justice, class and health inequalities.
Smoke pollution from burning coal was endemic in 19th century cities. Smog not only provided the ‘London particular’ for the evocative Victorian melodramas of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson but caused thousands of premature fatalities in real life. It was a mass killer that blighted the lives of entire urban communities in Carpenter’s own Sheffield and throughout centres of industry, right up to its tragic culmination in the notorious Great London Smog of 1952.