The abandoned village of Tyneham, Dorset
A hamlet betrayed by the Army
(Photos/words © urban75, 15th-16th May, 2009)
Situated at the base of Whiteway Hill on the Isle of Purbeck, the abandoned village of Tyneham was once home to an Elizabethan manor house, a church and a school, with a tight-knit community living in greystone cottages.
There's been human activity on the site for over a thousand years, with the village mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as Tigeham, meaning 'goat enclosure'.
The end came swiftly for the village just before Christmas, 1943, when the War Office commandeered the village and 7,500 acres of the surrounding hills, heathland and chalk downland for use as shelling and gunnery ranges for troops.
Given just 28 days notice to pack up their belongings and leave their homes, a total of 252 people were displaced, with the last person leaving this poignant note on the church door:
'Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.'
Although the government promised that the villagers would be allowed to return, the Ministry of Defence reneged on the agreement in 1948, with the army placing a compulsory purchase order on the land.
It has remained in use for military training ever since. With the Army still using the land for gunnery practice and unexploded shells littering the area, it is likely that the village will remain abandoned forever.
To add insult to injury, no one was permitted access to the village for years after - even when the ranges were not in use - so villagers weren't even able to visit the graves of family members in the churchyard.
Also lost was Tyneham's ancient manor, a beautiful Tudor building dating from the late 16th century.
After the village was evacuated, its 17th century paneling, beautiful wooden overmantel and some ancient glass were removed to Dorset County Museum.
It would take nearly a quarter of a century before public access was finally granted to the village, with visits being permitted from 1975 when firing is not taking place.
Ironically, this unusual and attractive telephone box was installed only a short while before the order to evacuate the village was implemented.
The more ancient readers will recognise this style of phone, with a rotary dial phone mounted on a box with 'A' and 'B' buttons.
To use the phone, you put in your money first, dialled the number and when the other end picked up, you pressed button A to release the coins and pre-pay for the call.
If there was no answer you'd press button B to get your money back.
There was usually a second or two's grace which meant that you could bark a quick message without paying anything!
St Mary's church.
During the evacuation, valuable fittings including the carved Jacobean pulpit were taken from St Mary's church, with the bells and the old organ moved to Steeple Church nearby.
The church is now maintained by the military and inside you can find a photo exhibition showing the history of the Tyneham Valley, its geology and local wildlife habitats.
The Gardeners House, once home to the Gould family.
In the mid-1980s the village was used as a location for Comrades, a film about the Tolpuddle Martyrs directed by Scottish film-maker Bill Douglas.
This saw the church growing a fibreglass tower with large additional gravestones added, and the old Post Office Row being fronted with fibreglass cottages.
Inside the restored school. I think I would have preferred it if they'd left the village as a ruin rather than turn parts of it into a museum.
The enforced abandonment has at least had one positive legacy, with the area escaping modern agricultural methods, with no pesticides or artificial fertilizers being used on the land.
Traditional wildlife also flourishes (including rare and threatened species like the Dorset heath nightjar, Dartford Warbler, and the marsh gentian) although visitors will never be allowed to roam freely in the beautiful countryside.
A last look at the abandoned village.
For another lost village, check out our feature on Dunwich, Suffolk, a once-thriving port that slowly fell into the sea.
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