“Suddenly the light went out,” wrote Virginia Woolf in her diary in 1927 when staying in Richmond. “We had fallen. It was extinct. There was no colour. The earth was dead.”

The novelist was one of tens of thousands of people who descended on Richmond in the early hours of June 29, 1927, when town was on “the line of totality” or, as an article in the new Richmond Review 2023 is headlined, at “the hub of the Eclipse universe”.

Over a 32-mile wide “band of totality”, stretching from Hawes to Saltburn, the sun went completely behind the moon for 23 seconds, and to this day, a yellow AA plaque marking the exact centre of the band can be seen in Victoria Road.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Automobile Association sign in Richmond still marking the centre of the line of totality from 1927

Virginia Woolf, 45, and her companion, poet Vita Sackville-West, caught the 10pm excursion special from King’s Cross. “It was a five-and-a-half hour ride to Richmond in North Yorkshire,” she wrote. “It was impossible to sleep on the train, so I passed the time smoking cigars.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Virginia Woolf, who wrote about her experiences in Richmond during the 1927 total eclipse

Ms Woolf was part of what is believed to be the largest-ever movement of people by rail in this country, with LNER’s special excursion trains carrying three million spectators into the band of totality.

Every LNER buffet car was shunted into sidings and turned into a pop-up food van, and every pub in the Dales offered all-night eclipse breakfasts at “prices that cannot be eclipsed”.

Virginia arrived at 3.30am at the Broken Brea level crossing about a mile to the east of Richmond and decamped into a motor omnibus which picked its way up the tank road, through the crowds and the people parked up and sleeping in their cars, to Barden Moor.

This high point was a popular viewing spot, as was Richmond racecourse, and the article reproduces an excellent newspaper picture of people waiting expectantly – even fearfully – at the now ruined grandstand.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The grandstand at Richmond covered in spectators in the dawn of June 29, 1927, for the total eclipse. Picture courtesy of Alan Gilpin

Fearfully because, at 6.20am, the clouds closed over the sun and the 30,000 spectators stationed in their vantage points around the town were worried that they were going to miss out.

“We thought we were cheated,” wrote Virginia.

But then, even with cloud cover, she could sense the celestial lighthouse was being extinguished.

“The clouds were turning pale; a reddish black colour. Down in the valley it was an extraordinary scrumble of red and black, and very beautiful.

“Rapidly, very very quickly, all the colours faded; it became darker and darker as at the beginning of a violent storm; the light sank and sank, and suddenly the light went out.”

The earth, as she said, was dead.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Close up of the 1927 solar eclipse, photographed in Giggleswick.

“That was the astonishing moment: and the next when as if a ball had rebounded, the cloud took colour on itself again; and so the light came back. The colour for some moments was of the most lovely kind – fresh, various – here blue, and there brown: all new colours, as if washed over and repainted. It was like recovery.

“One felt very livid. Then – it was all over till 1999.”

The article on Woolf’s experience in 1927 is in the review which acts as the annual report of the Richmond and District Civic Society. It contains reports about the society’s activities, and also of member’s interests. There are articles on the 100th anniversary of Richmond Operatic Society, the 75th anniversary of Richmondshire Subscription Concerts and whatever happened to Richmond Beer Festival.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Richmond Review of 2023 contains articles on the 1927 eclipse and the Skeeby hoard and is available now

The Burgage Pastures Committee delves into 1927 and all that, and there’s a summary of the community archaeology excavations at Richmond Castle which featured recently on BBC2’s Digging for Britain.

Plus Mike Wood has contributed a piece on the “Skeeby hoard” which metal detectorists discovered in a field in 2019. It consists of 20 silver pennies dating between 1280 and 1310, mostly from the reign of Edward I.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Two Scottish coins found at Skeeby. On the left is the rarest of the hoard, minted around 1292, showing John Balliol, who was king of Scots from 1292 to 1296. On the right is a coin of King Alexander III of Scotland minted around 1280

The rarest is an English coin that was minted in Durham around 1290, and there are two Scottish coins.

It is supposed they were buried in a container that his since decayed – but why?

“These were turbulent times,” says Mike, “with English armies invading Scotland and Scottish armies invading England. So were the coins hidden by either an English or Scottish soldier heading north or south, in advance or retreat, hoping to recover them later?”

With the old Roman road of Dere Street nearby, a marching army could have camped in Skeeby’s fields – perhaps an English soldier buried them on his way up to Bannockburn in 1314; perhaps a Scottish soldier buried them in 1318 as he wreaked havoc in Richmond, Northallerton and Ripon, or perhaps we shall never know.

Still, they make a fascinating exhibit in Richmondshire Museum and a very interesting article in The Richmond Review 2023. The review costs £10 and is available from Richmond Information Centre in the Market Hall and Castle Hill Bookshop in the town.

VIRGINIA WOOLF was right in that the next total eclipse in the UK after June 29, 1927, was on August 11, 1999.

Cornwall was then the only part of the country beneath the band of totality, but the D&S Times’s area experienced a 90 per cent black out which, even beneath the cloud cover, was weird enough: the light faded into a thin nothing, an evening-like chill fell on the hands and face, and the birds fell silent.

And then, miraculously, as Woolf says, the colours were reborn.

The next total eclipse in the UK is on September 23, 2090, although, by coincidence, you will probably hear about one on Monday. A 115-mile wide band of totality will pass over the heads of 44m people from Mexico to Canada, including over 15 US states from Texas to New Hampshire and Maine.

Due to an accident of cosmology – the moon is on its closest approach to the earth – totality will last four minutes and 28 seconds, so this eclipse will certainly eclipse the eclipse that Virginia Woolf experienced in Richmond.