November 1943. WWII raged across Europe. In the small village of Tyneham, Dorset, the 225 residents were told they had 28 days to leave their homes. The army was commandeering the area for military use. The inhabitants left their homes believing they would be able to return once the war was over. But they never did.
Tyneham remained off limits and in 1948, the Ministry of Defence bought the entire valley where the village was located. It remains a firing range to this day, but in 1975, following campaigns from locals, the MOD began to open the site to visitors on weekends, and every day during August.
The buildings in and around Tyneham are in now in various states of disrepair, wrought by both shells and nature. Some have been preserved enough that you’re able to go into the empty shells and read about the families that used to live there. Some properties, such as Tyneham House have been completely dismantled and are off limits.
In 1985, the village was used as a filming location “Comrades” about the Tolpuddle Martyrs. During filming the 1929 phone kiosk was destroyed, leading the film crew to source a replacement.
Two buildings remain wholly intact, the church and the village school. The church is sometimes open for services and former residents are still buried in the churchyard. Unfortunately, due to current circumstances we weren’t able to go inside either building.
There’s a curious feeling to the place. Even when it’s busy with visitors, there’s a loneliness to the village, as if the sadness felt by those leaving has permeated the air and the earth, and buildings now left to nature.
Footpaths wind through the area, complete with signs reminding you to stick to them to avoid potential un-exploded bombs. Walking down the valley to Wobarrow Bay you pass more empty buildings. Even back when it was inhabited, the village must have been fairly isolated. Everyone would have known everyone else, often living their lives almost entirely within this beautiful valley.
Lots of ideas ran through my head whilst exploring. A story about place itself, or the people who lived there. Maybe a ghostly tale, a mystery, or some kind of historical fiction.
It’s easy to see the humanity of the people who lived and loved here. They fought a long campaign to get back to their homes after the war ended, eventually having to settle for only being able to visit. Volunteers have preserved what they can so we’re able to appreciate the sacrifices of those who left, summed up by a note pinned to 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.
What do you think of Tyneham? Have you visited before? Please share in the comments.