Thanks to the so-called Craven Fault, the district is no stranger to seismic activity. In the first of two articles on earthquakes in Craven, Adrian Braddy looks back into the Herald archives from 1944, when the whole of the north of England was shaken by a significant quake, which was seemingly centred on Gargrave.

Towards the end of 1944, as the Second World War reached its final stages, the residents of Craven could have been forgiven for thinking they were under enemy attack in the early hours of one Saturday morning.

Buildings shook, floors vibrated, bricks fell from walls and people were shaken from their beds. But it was not a Nazi air-raid that caused such consternation, it was an earthquake on a scale rarely recorded in Britain.

According to one eminent geologist, the tremor – which was felt as far away as Norfolk – was centred on Gargrave, although it has also been recently claimed that Settle was the centre, while another seismologist of the time insisted that the disturbance actually originated in Salford. Whichever is correct, the dramatic incident became known as the Skipton Earthquake.

The Herald of the time dedicated many column inches to the quake, which was the talk of Craven for weeks, offering a distraction to war-weary residents.

The earth tremor started at 1.36am on Saturday, December 30, 1944 and rocked buildings in all parts of Craven, the Herald reported.

According to seismologist JJ Shaw, the quake built up its strength slowly for a matter of 45 seconds and continued in all for two minutes.

“It was a serious vibration for this country, and indications are that it was the most severe British earthquake for some years,” Mr Shaw added.

He later expressed the opinion that the disturbance originated in the “Pendleton fault” – a crack in the strata running from north-west to south-west in the Salford, area.

However, this opinion conflicted with that of Dr HC Versey, professor of Geology at Leeds University, whose view was that Skipton and Gargrave were at the centre of the shock.

The Herald stated: “The tremor was felt very strongly in the Skipton area, but apart from a few chimney pots being dislodged no damage has been reported.

“Reports from other parts of Craven indicate that the shock was felt in all districts. Much alarm was felt, but little material damage was done. It was an eerie experience for those who were so rudely awakened from their sleep, and many people who leapt from their beds were inclined to believe that the mid tremor was due to enemy action. Rocking furniture and the severe rattling of window panes were the chief signs of the visitation, but more particularly in the Skipton area, residents declare that they felt their houses shake.

“A resident in the Burnside estate was awakened by the bumping of a piece of furniture in his bedroom against the wall, and the violent shaking of his bed. He at once thought it was the result of falling bombs and dashed to the window expecting to find the surrounding houses in flames. In another part of the same district the householder thought there was someone pacing up and down in the bedroom with heavy footfalls, causing the floor to vibrate, and the furniture with it.

“In the Gargrave Road district a resident heard a crashing sound outside during the violent oscillation of his house, and on getting up the next morning found that part of his chimney pot lay smashed in the yard outside, and the fireplace in the living room had been badly damaged by falling bricks.

“Another local man stated that had he not got out of bed immediately to steady it, the wardrobe in his bedroom would have toppled over on to the floor. Several people, however, did not take a great deal of notice of the ‘quake’, and want to sleep again, they dismissed the incident merely as the passing of a heavy truck in the road outside.

“A Skipton lady, who on her admission was thrown into a momentary scare by the vibrating of her house, said that after the shake there appeared to be a rush of wind through the house. “Another lady said she wondered whether she was dreaming or not, for when she was getting into bed the bedroom fireplace seemed to be coming towards her and then retreating, at first slowly, then more quickly.

“Many farmers up and down the district, particularly in the more hilly areas, say they could plainly hear a rumbling noise moving along the ranges of hills.

“In some parts of the district, brought to the alert by the shaking and the explosion-like rumble, a number of special constables turned out and patrolled the streets for a few hours, and there were many hasty telephone calls to newspaper officers and other sources of information inquiring the source of the shock.”

In West Craven, a vicar likened the incident to a torpedo passing under his house.

The Herald of the time reported: “Barnoldswick houses shook violently and while there are no reports locally of people being tipped out of bed – this happened in some towns – many residents got up in their night attire, seeking what they considered safer quarters downstairs. Apart from the displacement of small pieces of masonry, there was no damage to property in Barnoldswick.

“The Rev SC Radley told a Craven Herald and Pioneer reporter that the sensation he felt was as if a torpedo had passed under his house. ‘There was a dull rumbling sound and the floors and walls shook. It was rather frightening. At first I was a little puzzled, then I realised that it must be an earthquake, because the sensation was similar to that which I experienced during the same kind of disturbance at Hull, when I was living there 14 years ago’.

“An elderly man living in Cobden Street said he was sleeping downstairs at the time and thought a heavy motor vehicle had crashed into the front of his house. On going outside he was surprised to find the street deserted.

“A Barnoldswick ex-serviceman, resident in the Gisburn Road area, who went all through the last war and was badly wounded in Flanders, confessed that he had never been frightened so much as he was on Saturday morning. ‘I have been bombed, shelled and all the rest, but those tremors were the worst of the lot,’ he declared. It looked as if my bedroom was being turned upside down. I don’t want another experience such as this’.

“Residents of Calf Hall Road felt the earthquake severely. ‘My children woke up screaming and I had great difficulty in pacifying them,’ said one woman.

“Similar experiences are reported from Earby. Houses in Aspin Lane had a severe shaking. Stones in the chimney stack and gable wall of an empty shop were found to have ‘bulged’ as a result of the tremors and as a safety measure the premises were roped off during the weekend.”