Tyneham, Dorset

Tyneham village

Tyneham in Dorset is a curious thing - a ghost village. Being ghostly, it’s not the easiest thing to find. We couldn’t see it on any road signs, but the boards saying "Village: Open" were a dead giveaway. So we followed these until some roofless cottages and an ornate white phonebox appeared - a rare K1 no less, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1921. Ironically, it’s the one of the few things in Tyneham left intact.

Until 1943 this was a bustling community of 200, with its own post office, church, school and rectory. When the War Office (now the Ministry of Defence) needed some land for firing practice, the residents were asked to leave. On the door of St Mary's Church a poignant note remains:

'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.'

But they never did return. In 1948 the War Office took out a compulsory purchase order and the land was commandeered for military use. Information boards in the empty houses tell the story of the village and the campaign to get Tyneham back. Photos show residents as youngsters in the village, and as pensioners camping at the gates with placards saying "Get our village back".

In the end, the campaign to get the village back lasted longer than the war. It took over 30 years for access to the village to be restored and even then, it's only for a few days every year (officially 137). In whatever state it continues to delight and intrigue. Patrick Wright who wrote a book about it calls it "the symbol of a vanished England".

Tyneham Rectory

If there is a bright side to people being turfed out of their homes, the local Isle of Purbeck website has found it:

Whether you agree with the Army's continuing presence or not, the Tyneham Valley has escaped the unsightly tourism developments, only too prominent along the adjacent coastline. It has been untouched by modern intensive farming practices and is a haven for wildlife, supporting many rare and threatened species.

Whatever your reasons for visiting, it is a very special place.

How to get there

Check the opening times before you go.

Coming from Corfe Castle we had a bit of bother finding Tyneham and only got on the right road by chance. From Corfe Castle there is a road running round the back of the castle that leads towards Church Knowle and the ranges. From here the MoD signs tell you whether or not the ranges are open. If they are, keep going on this road, past Steeple until you see the MoD road sign to Tyneham. The village is at the end of the road. On the left is an ample pay and display car park.

The B3070 East Lulworth is a bit nearer on the west side.

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That is a very poignant tale. I think I take for granted that I can visit were I grew up when I want and bump into people that grew up there too, it must have been tough for these village residents to lose that as well as their homes. Thanks for highlighting all these wonderful gems.

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