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One of the first recorded complaints about air quality in a major city is around 400 years old, by the writer and gardener John Evelyn. It takes the form of a pamphlet sent to King Charles II in 1661, which Evelyn titled: 'Fumifugium, or, The inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London dissipated together with some remedies humbly proposed by J.E. esq. to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now assembled'.

'Fumifugium' is a typically English whinge to the authorities, albeit with good reason given the filthy London air, followed by what could be called a suite of creative policy proposals.

In Fumifugium, Evelyn complains bitterly of the city's "impure and thick Mist", primarily caused by the burning of "Hellish and dismall Cloud of SEA-COAL" and exacerbated by wood burning, and other agricultural and industrial processes inside the city.

Evelyn's solution? Shunt these smelly trades outside of the city wherever possible and surround London with great "plantations" of sweet-smelling flowers and vegetation placed near the city.

Evelyn carefully lists dozens of flowers, from woodbinds and pipe trees to musk roses and sweet-brier, that he envisaged would be planted in this vast array of gardens. He describes how the impact of the "poisonous and filthy smoake remov'd", in that "the City and environs about it, might be rendred one of the most pleasant and agreeable places in the world."


Dan Hill

Dan is Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, the Swedish Government’s innovation agency.