It is curious how things arise in connected groups. Recently I was lent a computer program, called SKYGLOBE, which will display a picture of the heavens, as seen from anywhere in the world at any time in the last 4000 years, or in the 4000 years to come.
Last summer's Settle Community Play had revived interest in the eclipse of 1927, in which year the world assembled at Giggleswick to enjoy the spectacle in the company of the Astronomer Royal. So we set about looking for the eclipse on our computer screen and found it, as viewed from Giggleswick School Chapel, early in the morning of June 29th 1927.
Also recently the Rotary Club of Settle produced from its weekly book stall in the Market Place, a copy of "Rod and Line". This is a volume of fishing essays by Arthur Ransome, collected from his articles in the Manchester Guardian of the mid twenties, and published in 1929. I began reading of days spent on one of his favourite rivers, the Ribble. AR was not one to miss any opportunity to learn more about the ways of fish and resolved on an experiment at Malham Tarn during the imminent eclipse. Before dawn, and about an hour before the onset of the eclipse was forecast, AR set off from Settle to walk to Malham Tarn. He hoped that the fish might think night was upon them and respond with a satisfactory Evening Rise as the sun was obscured, and he hoped too for some fishy revelation as daylight returned.
But trout were not the only object of interest to him: as he climbed out of the valley he heard mouth organs, accordions and at least one brass band entertaining the assembling crowds. And he observed: "that a great many people were making use of the eclipse for their own livelihood. They were trying to entice motorcars into fields for their own profit... The eclipse was giving them an improved chance of making a living, and they were grabbing at that chance with both hands. The fish, I thought, would probably do the same."Alas, the experiences of both shop keepers and fisherman were to be disappointing. Mr Tom Dugdale, who was a young man in Settle at that time, tells that though it is true that many stores were laid in, in hopes of a bonanza, the eclipse was over before seven o'clock and the motorcars carried their passengers away without delay, leaving Settle's shelves still groaning with unwanted luxuries to be disposed of at a loss. AR left the crowds to their pleasures and arrived at the tarn as the sun was rising, he confesses that he broke all the rules by being on the water at 5.30 in the morning but
".. .as there is to be no other such eclipse for some seventy years, I was not likely to break the rules in this way again, and could almost count on being forgiven for a first offence." At 5.40 the sun showed through the clouds "like a brass saucer out of which some mad hatter had taken a bite... fish were still feeding, and I caught a small one", the light was waning, the sheep stopped grazing and moved restlessly about in little groups.
".. .the speed of events seemed to quicken. Everything went suddenly dark. The noise of curlews, peewits, and small upland birds stopped. There was absolute silence, and it was as if a roof had suddenly been put over the tarn... The tarn was dead. I saw no rise and heard no rise. It was exactly like fishing a pool in a river over which a fisherman has inadvertently moved his own shadow. That, I think, is what the eclipse seemed to the trout... they buried themselves in the weeds or in the deepest water." Twenty minutes after the shadow passed he caught two small trout but "after that, the morning of the eclipse was an ordinary fishing morning and one of the worst", with a number of minor disasters. Thus the outcome of the experiment was rather unsatisfactory, but it was ".. .enough to prove that trout.. .stopped feeding altogether at the passage of the moon's shadow
.. .and plucking up heart with the second dawn that day, resumed their feeding. All of which was precisely what might have been expected." In his discursive way Ransome gives us his opinion on a variety of matters. His view on civic institutions is relevant to the NCHT today, as our address is now c/o The Town Hall, Settle, so that it was a little disappointing to read, on the first page of the first of the essays in the book:
".. .there seems to be a mistaken idea that the centre of the town is some Town Hall... when, if the truth were known, the whole town is grouped about some little shop where a man will find, in the window, boots and pike tackle, mayflies and flat irons, and behind the counter a fisherman like himself."
Arthur Ransome did not have Settle in mind when he wrote these words, he was thinking of Manchester, but despite his disdain for Town Halls, we hope that you, at any rate, will approve of our new address—and that we shall receive much interesting correspondence through its doors. Even if you do not approve you can enjoy the picture of AR returning to the centre of Settle—to a Tackle Shop-to mull over his astronomical observations in the best of company, and setting them down for us to enjoy nearly seventy years later.
THE NORTH EASTERN SKY, 6.12 am, JUNE 29th 1927 From Giggleswick (DD9-1)
The Sun and Moon at 6.12am on the day of the eclipse, as they appeared from the Chapel. They appear in the centre of the circle, just at the top right hand corner of the rectangle which defines the constellation Gemini. Since it was early in the morning the Sun is not far above the horizon.