The poignant story behind the ‘ghost village’ of Tyneham, abandoned during World War II, will stay with you long after you have walked around its crumbling homes and forgotten farmland.
Evacuated in 1943 so that the British Army could use the area for training purposes, the village soon fell into ruin. However the church and school room are still mostly intact, having been carefully restored. You can walk around them, discovering their history, the last pages of schoolwork and children’s names on pegs carefully preserved in this village that simply stopped in time.
Information is displayed throughout the village about the families that once lived in Tyneham, and what life was like for them in this seemingly idyllic, yet remote spot. Nestled deep within the Purbeck Hills the story of these villagers who never returned and their now deserted homes is an interesting insight into this area’s past.
Tyneham’s history preserved
A short walk from the village will lead you to the Tyneham farm area, much of which is exactly as it was when it was evacuated, with original farm machinery on display and a History Barn and storyboards to explore.
There is also a unique outdoor exhibition of WWII memorabilia set into the walls.
In keeping with the history of the village, facilities at Tyneham are limited.
Toilets (including disabled access) are situated at Tyneham Farm in the old Milking Parlour building.
Picnic tables – There are various picnic tables dotted around the car park area and near the History Barn in the farm area.
Refreshments – The nearest places to grab a bite to eat are The New Inn in Church Knowle and Clavell’s restaurant in Kimmeridge, which are both around a 10 minute drive from Tyneham.
Access and restrictions
Due to Tyneham being part of the Lulworth Ranges – a British Army training area – access is restricted to times when no firing is taking place (typically weekends and bank and school holidays).
Opening times can be found here: http://www.tynehamopc.org.uk/visiting-tyneham/opening-times/
Live firing range timings can change, however, so it’s always best to check in advance of visiting. You can do that by calling the following number, which gives live automated updates: 01929 404714
Some areas of Tyneham are out-of-bounds, so it’s important to keep to the waymarked paths.
Dogs can visit Tyneham village on a lead and are welcome on the beach year-round.
How to get to Tyneham
For your SatNav: BH20 5QN
If you’re coming from Swanage, turn left off the A351 at Corfe towards Church Knowle. Follow the road past signs for Steeple and Kimmeridge. You’ll eventually climb a steep hill with stunning views across the Purbeck Hills (there is a viewpoint at the top). Signs to Tyneham will lead you down a road to the left to Tyneham car park.
Leave the A351 toward Grange Road (the first turning on your right after the Worgret roundabout on the Wareham Bypass) and follow the signs to Tyneham.
There is a large car park by Tyneham Village, operating a donation box system. A donation of £2 is suggested and all money goes toward the conservation of the village and surrounding area.
The car park is situated in a large field, which also doubles as a popular picnic area, with seating by a pond and towards the woodland walk.
The history of Tyneham village
In 1943, the residents of Tyneham were told they had to evacuate the village so the army could use the area as a training ground ahead of the imminent D-Day invasion.
One month later, and just six days before Christmas, all 225 villagers did just that – left their homes as part of the war effort.
They left this note pinned to the door of the church:
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 small sacrifice’
The Government, in its letter to the people of Tyneham, acknowledged that what they were being asked to do was huge.
“The Government appreciate [sic] that this is no small sacrifice which you are asked to make, but they are sure that you will give this further help towards winning the war with a good heart.”
However, the villagers never returned.
What was initially a temporary arrangement became permanent in 1948 when a compulsory purchase order was made by the Ministry of Defence on the village of Tyneham and its surrounding area, which was to become an important military training areas, and which is still in use today by the Armoured Fighting Vehicles Gunnery School.
Residents were relocated to nearby villages. However – having initially believed they would be back in Tyneham after the war, and then learning they could not – some campaigned to return to the village they had grown up in. But it was not to be.
Arthur Grant was the last resident of Tyneham to die in 2010. Before he passed away he shared his memories of the village he lived in as a boy:
A community in decline
However, for some villagers it was a case of head over heart and they embraced their new lives as, whilst they missed their old
homes, they were now living much more comfortably – having electricity for the first time and hot, running water; no longer needing to head to the village pump every day.
And local ways of life were being affected by modernisation too – the increasing use of the motorcar opening doors to new work opportunities further afield and industries such as fishing hit by the introduction of large trawler ships at the larger ports nearby.
In short, life wasn’t always easy in Tyneham. The schoolroom had also already closed in 1932 due to lack of numbers.
A new lease of life
However, the magic of that very local way of life stayed with some residents, who always longed to return. But perhaps their sadness was allayed slightly by the compromise campaigners struck with the Ministry of Defence – to open Tyneham up to the public for a certain number of days a year, giving the village frozen in time a new purpose.
Tyneham Village has remained just as it was after the war. It is distinctly untouched and natural compared to many tourist spots in Britain – some argue that Tyneham’s poignant history has in fact helped stave off the potential development and commercialism of a beauty spot and preserve the memory and the stories of the people who lived here and a way of life lost to us in a modern world.
And, as much of the year Tyneham remains untouched by the comings and goings of normal human activity, wildlife is allowed to thrive uninterrupted – from wild garlic in the woodland and lichen growing on the old buildings to dragonflies humming about the village pond.
Tyneham in literature and on stage & screen
It’s not surprising that Tyneham has been the inspiration for writers and producers over the years, with its atmospheric setting and unique history.
Author Lorna Cook’s 2018 debut novel The Forgotten Village is partly set in and inspired by Tyneham’s history.
There has even been a musical theatre production based on the story of Tyneham’s residents. No Small Sacrifice was produced in 2013, on the 70th anniversary of the year the village was abandoned.
And filming for the 1986 movie Comrades took place here – during which the original phone box was destroyed. The film company replaced it with the replica that is there today.
Comrades tells the story of the West Dorset-based Tolpuddle Martyrs – a group of six farm labourers now widely regarded as the founding fathers of the trade union and workers’ rights movements.
Purbeck’s other abandoned village
There is a less well known, yet similar story in the nearby village of Arne.
Residents were asked to leave Arne village in 1942.
The village remained largely uninhabited until the 1950s, and still has a very small population.
Today the area is best-known for its RSPB Nature Reserve.
Nearby points of interest
There are plenty of other places to explore – both while you’re at Tyneham for the day, but also for a return visit.