It looked like a ghost village, with fragments of buildings sticking out of a green grass. The sky was blue, with few clouds gathered around, but no rain on the horizon. The message which was delivered to the residents of Tyneham in Dorset was cruel, but the times were even more demanding. In November 1943 villagers were told to leave their homes behind as the area was being taken for the national forces training. They were told they might be able to return one day, but this has never happened. On 17 December 1943 the village became uninhabited. Everyone left to never come back to live here again.
Everything seems to be frozen in time. Especially the school and the church – two buildings which reminded intact, surrounded by ruined houses, with holes in a barely standing walls, striped out to bare bricks, with pictures hanging inside of what is left. Young and old faces are looking straight into your eyes and their stories are told in the form of letters and personal testimonials. The happy faces of farmers, bakers, priest, teachers, farmers, village mayor with his wife and children from school, proudly standing in front of their homes, enjoying sunny weather, are the memories trapped in time, brought back to breathe life into lifeless walls.
In the school building the names of the village children on the hangers, with the poppy flowers or a butterfly painted by hand, along with softly written name of a child the hanger belonged to. Their homework left on the old desks, few books sitting on a bookshelf at the far end of the small classroom and an ancient black board, with a white writing in an old style. They were learning about the nature, the birds known in the area, weather, maths and English. The classroom is cosy and quiet, despite many visitors wandering around, like they do not wish to break the magic of the school day frozen in time. The only thing which is missing are the students and their teacher.
The church in the centre of the village, surrounded by trees, perfectly preserved inside and outside. So many documents can be found here – old & new photographs, historic postcards, baptism, marriage and burial records, census entries, wills and probate records… The story of the village is neatly presented on two walls in the church, in a small alcove, listing the most important events of the village life.
Getting there might be tricky, even though our sat-nav was able to bring us into the right place, we missed an entry to the military grounds. Our mobile phones lost their signals and we could not see any buildings around – just the remains of the village hidden in the valley. The wild-life here thrived. Despite constant military trainings, the nature slowly took over adapting to the noise and human presence.
225 people lived here, taking care of their village. The last person leaving left a note on a church doors: “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.” They were never given a chance.
The houses suffered the army training routines, losing the windows, roofs, walls and doors. Since the reopening of Tyneham Farm in 2008 to the public the conservation work began. Please, leave a donation in the car park for the people passionate about the place to be able to carry on the work and help to preserve the frozen in time village so others can visit this incredible place.
This place is accessible by car only. Your mobile will stop working when you there, so do not bother. There is no cost to visit this village, but you can give a donation. Plenty of space for a great picnic too! For more information head here.