June 1927 saw Britain in the grip of eclipse fever. A total eclipse of the sun, the first to be visible in Britain for more than 200 years, was predicted for 29 June. The path of totality ran across North Wales and Central England, from Criccieth in North Wales to Hartlepool on the east coast.
The newspapers showed little interest in the event until the last moment, but other bodies were quick to respond.
'Your only chance until 1999' read the poster from rail company LNER, going on to advertise a pamphlet available from LNER inquiry offices which contained information about the event from the British Astronomical Association. London Midland and Scottish Railway suggested that vacations should be taken in west coast resorts from which the eclipse could be viewed. The list included Blackpool, Colwyn Bay and, more surprisingly, Liverpool.
The area around Giggleswick and Settle was considered to be one of the best sites for observing the eclipse. Eminent observers, including the Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Dyson, gathered at Giggleswick School with a collection of instruments from the Royal Observatory . These had been assembled at Greenwich and dispatched to Giggleswick by Admiralty lorry a few weeks before the event, according to the account in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association*.
Around 2,000 people travelled by rail to the totality area from all parts of the country, some arriving only at the last moment. LNER's Flying Scotsman broke down en route and caused an hour's delay to 12 trains carrying spectators. Road traffic reached unprecedented levels. The Yorkshire Post reported that in just 40 minutes no fewer than 225 vehicles passed on the road between Boroughbridge and Wetherby.
People travelled in charabancs, by motorbike and on push bikes. Some even walked. Others took to the water. The Liverpool to Isle of Man ferry was crowded with passengers, many of whom stayed on deck to dance through the night. All this for an event which lasted 23 seconds.
The numbers watching the eclipse could certainly be counted in millions. Official figures for Giggleswick and Settle alone put the number who congregated in the area at between 70,000 and 100,000.
Sadly, the weather prevented more than half of those watching from seeing the event. The day proved to be cloudy, wet and windy. Later analysis showed the summer of 1927 was the worst for 50 years.
*Available price £3.50 from the BAA tel: (0171) 734 4145.