Saturday, 11 May 2013

1927 UK Total Solar Eclipse

I have been fortunate enough to obtain an original cutting from the Times newspaper dated June 30th 1927 showing a lovely picture of the total solar eclipse taken by the  then  Astronomer Royal from Giggleswick in Yorkshire.  I decided to find out a bit more about the image that is presented scanned above and was fascinated by the background to it, so, given the cloudy skies we are currently graced with in the UK have decided to do a write up on this for the blog. The following is an overview of what I found.

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.

The following extract is from the Report of the Astronomer Royal, Sir Frank Dyson, to the Board of Visitors, 2 June 1928.The path over England of the 1927 solar eclipse

A'n expedition to observe the total eclipse of the Sun on June 29 was kindly accomodated on the school grounds at Giggleswick. The principle part of the programme was to photograph the Corona on a large scale with a 6-inch lens of 45-feet focus; to photograph the spectrum in the infrared with a Littrow spectrograph; and to compare the intensity of the Ca doublet in the infrared with the H and K lines by means of a small dispersion Littrow spectrograph. The weather previous to the eclipse was extremely bad, but the eclipse itself was observed through a break in the clouds. Small-scale photographs were also secured from an aeroplane kindly placed at the disposal of the Observatory by the Daily Mail. By permission of the Hydrographer of the Navy two observers from Greenwich were accommodated on board the Survey Ship H.M.S. Fitzroy which was engaged near the belt of totality in the North Sea. Owing to clouds no results were obtained. A full report is given in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 87, p. 657.'

The following link goes to an article from the Journal of the British Astronomical Association which provides a fascinating and in depth account of the eclipse.