All images credited to Annabel Elston
The reassuring flutter of the green flag announces that the road is open (and free from military practice) to wind down the Dorset valley into the lost village of Tyneham. The village appears casually into view and it is only up close that you realise the eeriness of this place.
During the Second World War, British troops requested that the villagers leave Tyneham and allow it to be used for military practice, with the promise that the families could all return when the conflict was over. In total, 225 people left their homes, leaving a note on the church door as they did so;
'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.'
No-one ever returned, and the village is still in ownership of the MOD.
I remember coming here as a child and playing with my brother as we dashed in and out of the shells of houses, not really appreciating the concept of what we were exploring. As an adult, I notice all of the plaques, which are featured in each house, telling you who lived there and what happened to them. It is only now that I can understand and appreciate the importance and significance of Tyneham in telling the story of a remarkable piece of social history.
My favourite aspect of this ghost village is the phonebox, which is outside what was once the post office. As you step inside, the phone box is almost like a time warp, in which war propaganda posters warn you that ‘you never know who might be listening.’ Indeed, it is easy to imagine ghostly spies hiding in the shadows around the deserted village.
Closing my eyes, I can picture the village as a buzzing community a hundred years ago, with important trades thriving in the local area, from fishing to farming. I can hear the echoes of the patter of excited feet as children skip down the road to the school building, shrieking and laughing with their friends on their way.
The village school is indeed exactly as it was left, when the villagers were forced to abandon their homes just before Christmas in December 1943. The desks still have the children’s work open on them, interrupted in the the middle of a school lesson.
What is heart-warming about the village is the modest church and if you wander around the graveyard, you will see some relatively new graves, where those that left in 1943 were able to return to their home in eternal rest. Whilst there is no admission charge to explore this time capsule, there is a donation box, which goes towards the upkeep of this remarkable place, and it is well worth keeping this little pocket of history maintained.
Stay in a holiday cottage near Tyneham Village.