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Eclipse99 Tuesday, 17 August, 1999, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Eclipse archive
The 1927 eclipse at Giggleswick
The 1927 eclipse at Giggleswick
Before 1999, the last total eclipse of the Sun to be seen on the UK mainland occurred on 29 June, 1927.

Special report
Special report
11 August
The path of totality - the line on the Earth's surface that is thrown into complete darkness - ran across the UK from Cardigan Bay in Wales to Hartlepool in the North East.

Amid great excitement, thousands of people from all sections of society travelled into this path of darkness to get the best view possible of the eclipse.

The site where the Astronomer Royal chose to set up his camera was Giggleswick in Yorkshire and Giggleswick school it still maintains a library of information on the 1927 event.

Many were disappointed, as the clouds stubbornly refused to budge. But for the Astronomer Royal, the clouds did part at the right moment, just long enough to capture the 23-second totality.

A total eclipse could be seen from the UK on 30 June, 1954, but it was only visible from the northernmost part of the Shetland Islands.

Here are the experiences of some of those who witnessed the 1927 event.

Ruth Shaw, 86

BBC South West Eclipse Correspondent Julia Peet interviews Ruth Shaw, who watched the 1927 eclipse with her father, Sir Frank Dyson, then Astronomer Royal.

Click on the RealAudio icon to the left.

Dora Ashden, 88

"I lived in Widnes - about 10 miles from Liverpool. I was 16 and still at school when the eclipse happened.

Dora Ashden
"There was a special train laid on to take us all to Ainsdale Beach outside Southport.

"The eclipse was so memorable. It gradually went darker as the shadow of the Sun came. And then at the moment when the Sun was completely obliterated there was a wonderful bright shining light all around. It was silent and really beautiful - fiery all around the circle. It went very cold.

"I remember vividly that the next one would be 1999 and I thought 'Oh good gracious me! I'll be 88. I'll never live that long!'"

Bertha Warren, 89
Bertha Warren was a 16-year-old apprentice baker in 1927. She and her pals clambered up a wall to watch the eclipse. Then she had to make her way to work in the twilight that followed.

Joan Castelton, 85

"I was 13 years old at the time. I can't remember the month it happened - but I do remember it was about the time Lindbergh made the first flight across the Atlantic.

Thousands gathered in Giggleswick

"It was a glorious day. We relied on newspapers and the cat's whisker radio for our information. For ages before the eclipse we had to write essays and so on about what was about to happen, so much so that we were too used to it all. We weren't as excited as we should have been.

"I met my best friend and we climbed a fence and went up the hill together. There were quite a few people there. The Moon was very close to the Sun and I watched, completely fascinated as the Sun had a black, half-moon which slowly spread over it.

"At totality, beams were coming out like a halo. It was wonderful - rays out in all directions."

Frank Symons, 83

"I was only 11 at the time. My father wanted me to see it, as it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. There was lots of publicity in the papers, lots of local interest, but I wasn't aware of many people coming into town.

AA sign showing path of eclipse
Signs marked out the route of the eclipse

"Having been awakened before dawn by my father, we made our way to an excellent vantage point known as Quinta. This gave us an uninterrupted view eastwards across Lyme Bay to the horizon. About half a mile away and at a lower level was another more popular vantage point where several hundred people had gathered.

"There was a light sea mist but we were hoping that with the sunrise it would disperse. It was not to be - it thickened, completely obscuring the Sun.

"As the eclipse started twilight descended and all the birds stopped singing, as though one had thrown a switch. There was a deep and intense silence, quite eerie and so complete that individual conversations between people on the other vantage point could be clearly heard.

"Then it was all over, the sun rose out of the mist, the birds started singing again and a disappointed 11-year-old boy went home to his breakfast."

Hilda Wooley, 82

"I was 10 in 1927. I was on the outskirts of Blackburn and we went to see it on Bunkers Hill.

Hilda Wooley
"I went with my sister Mary who was 14. All Mary's school friends went, about 40 of us altogether. It was a ten-minute walk up Bunkers Hill.

"I remember watching it. The older boys we were with said the world comes to an end with the eclipse according to the scriptures, when the Moon catches the world. I was scared, I thought this was it. The boys believed it too.

"It was dead quiet and it went chilly. The birds stopped singing. Everything was pitch black - you couldn't see a thing - worse than night and very scary. We saw the Moon going over the Sun and then it took 20 minutes from starting to clearing.

Eclipse 1927
The 1927 eclipse almost meant the end of the world for Hilda Wooley
"We went back down Bunkers Hill and we could hear the fire engines clanking. It made it worse after what the boys had said. The Cotton Mill opposite our cottage where my family worked was on fire. It burnt to the ground. It really did feel like the end of the world.

"The mill was completely destroyed. It was a really sad day - the workers were all out of work for 7-8 months. We had to go on relief. Back at school my teacher asked us to write about it, the eclipse."

This page was prepared for the 1999 total solar eclipse on 11 August. The next total eclipse can be seen across southern Africa on 21 June, 2001.

James Richards, 88: Eclipse was celebrated with a funfair, an ox roasting on a spit and a new baby sister
BBC News' Sue Nelson visits a rainy Giggleswick where the clouds parted just in time for the 1927 eclipse
Bertha Warren: An eerie experience
Joan Randall: Remembers the 'magical' vision of the Corona
Doris Brookes: Enjoyed playing in the field as much as the eclipse
Ruth Shaw: Looking forward to seeing second solar eclipse
Links to more Eclipse99 stories are at the foot of the page.

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