Moony with a lot of cloud: eclipses in Birmingham

Hello bloggers! (Blog readers?)

This Eclipse Special comes not from one of your regular contributors, but from one of your ‘hide in the shadows’ assistants – get it? I’m a bit of a science geek and was hoping to discover something extra ordinary in offering to write this piece at the last minute.

That said, while I failed to find any arcane happenings in my trawl back through the local newspapers, I did find out that: a) British weather rarely fails to spoil what supposes to be a once in a lifetime experience; b) some people never listen to good advice (i.e., don’t look at the sun, it’s bad for your eyes); c) handmade gismos are awesome; and d) you can travel to the ends of the Earth (well, Cornwall), but never find the experience there has as much value as it does at home. Oh, and people love to speculate on folklore.

Simply, for those unaware, a solar eclipse is when the Moon comes between us (the Earth) and the Sun – the three meeting in a brief alignment. The resulting effect, on the land or water mass directly shadowed by the alignment here on Earth, is that the Sun is essentially blotted out. These events occur due to the near perfect positioning of Earth in relationship to the size and distance of the Moon and Sun. Amazing, is it not?

As regards solar eclipses witnessed here in Birmingham, there have been several nearly complete ones over the last century, the most recent on 11th August, 1999.

The Post and Mail did a wonderful Eclipse Special, which included details about what an eclipse is; the path of totality on that day; how to make a homemade eclipse viewer (very cool!), with a piece about what eclipses were understood to have been from the perspective of historic worldwide cultures. (There was also a reprinted article from the 30th June, 1927, about Edgbaston Observatory which I’ll mention below.) After the eclipse, the newspapers record how shoppers lined New Street for the approximately 95% coverage we had here. It also has reports of scores of people seeking medical advice, suffering dark spots in their eyesight. Sadly, for those Midlanders who’d travelled to Cornwall hoping to see a full corona, (the ring of light around a totally obscured sun) they ended up mainly being greeted by cloud.

From what I’ve gleaned, logged solar eclipses seen from Birmingham in the last century also fell in:  1961, 1954, 1927 and 1925. The Birmingham Evening Mail, 15th February, 1961 records how, ‘Low cloud blots out eclipse over Britain’, leaving the weather forecasters to explain how they got their predictions wrong. In 1954, on the 30th June, again The Birmingham Evening Mail reads, ‘Few see eclipse in the Midlands, but Leamington has a good view’, so it seems like some, at least, managed to get a glimpse that year.

In searching through 1927, I was amused by this advert from the 29th June:

Birmingham Evening Mail 29 June 1927

Birmingham Evening Mail 29 June 1927


Another article in the same paper goes on to report on how crowds of people, several thousand thick, walked up the Lickey Hills at 5.30am to catch a glimpse of the almost complete eclipse at 6.25am. (Perhaps with the two big events in one day, the weather didn’t dare cause problems in the Midlands!) The 30th June, 1927’s eclipse also saw Mr. A. J. Kelley, a noted meteorologist, hold court at Edgbaston Observatory—more commonly known as Perrott’s Folly—where his party achieved a good view of the event. (Incidentally, Edgbaston Observatory was one of the world’s first places where atmospheric conditions were detected and forecast from.)

On the 24th January, 1925, there was an article entitled, ‘The Eclipse, How the Ancients Explained it. Worldwide Superstitious Belief’, which while of its time in tone, I still found of interest as it included some classical incidents of eclipses in antiquity.  The weather for the actual event in 1925 is recorded as having, ‘Fluctuating Conditions’, and being, ‘not very favourable’. From reading, it appears that the clouds only cleared after the moon had already advanced quite a way before the Sun. People in the city are recorded as gathering in Navigation Street, at the bottom of Ethel Street and in Cannon Street to see what they could.

Looking back a little further, and to illustrate this short delve into the shadows, here’s an image from our Sir John Benjamin Stone Collection (MS 3196). This image wasn’t taken in Birmingham, but in Brazil, after Stone travelled there to record the event. (See our previous blog piece about an exhibition which documented this event.)

Eclipse over Brazil 1893. John Benjamin Stone [MS 3196]

Eclipse over Brazil 1893. John Benjamin Stone
[MS 3196]

If you’re up this coming Friday morning, and not dashing to work, maybe take a moment to appreciate the Sun shying behind the Moon. Although, having checked the weather, it does appear as if we might get rain. With any celestial event, do take care with your eyesight. For as anyone who has read The Day of the Triffids will know, these events can lead to walking plants taking over!

Rachel Clare
Senior Assistant
Archives, Heritage and Photography

Birmingham newspapers are available on microfilm on floor 4 of the Library of Birmingham. Please bring ID to register for a library ticket. To view the microfiche of the Sir John Benjamin Stone Collection, please contact us to book an appointment within the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research. This also requires ID for a CARN reader’s ticket.



One response to “Moony with a lot of cloud: eclipses in Birmingham

  1. Lovely post! Even more excited about tomorrow and fingers crossed for clear skies!

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