by Nick Churchill
Isolated as much by geography as history, Tyneham offers a unique perspective on the way things used to be. Nobody has lived here since 1943 and today the valley is part of the Lulworth firing ranges, owned by the Ministry of Defence.
Dorset has been a vital military training ground for more than 150 years, but the Army’s policy of improving public access to Tyneham and the surrounding area means it is open for up to 150 days a year when not being used for live firing exercises.
The people of this idyllic valley lived simple lives relatively untouched by the outside world, but Tyneham’s fate was sealed by Churchill’s War Cabinet when it decided the valley was needed for military training ahead of the D-
The chain of events that has seen Tyneham capture the public imagination began on 19 December 1943 with the complete evacuation of the village and surrounding area. Everybody had to leave. Nobody came back.
They lived in the splendid Tyneham House out of view in Tyneham Great Wood. Apart from the fishermen at Worbarrow and a few non-
Six o’clock in the morning and 11-
His sister Edith, 15, has left for Tyneham House where she’s a scullery maid. Fred’s not at school today, it’s harvest time and he’s needed in the fields. This week he’s going to market in Wareham. He’ll have to walk, but he doesn’t mind – it’s his first trip out of the valley.
The Bond family have owned the Tyneham Valley for over 200 years.
The closure of the coastguard station in 1912 marked the beginning of a gradual decline in Tyneham’s population.
More families drifted away after the Great War and the village school closed in 1932. Although Tyneham’s population was decreasing, increased car ownership meant Tyneham was a popular destination for visiting motorists who paid to park there. There was even a tearoom at Worbarrow.
Helen Taylor is off to Tyneham House where she has worked as a seamstress since leaving school at 14 in 1916. With her sister Bessie, she lives at Laundry Cottages, the only house in the village with running water, doing the washing for the ‘Big House’ and for Rev. Corfield at the Rectory.
They took on the work of their mother Emily who died in 1917, grief stricken by the loss of three sons, William, Arthur and Bert, in the War. Another fourteen sons of the parish also perished.
Under the cover of official secrecy, 225 people from 102 properties were evacuated.
By Christmas, all residents from Tyneham and the surrounding area were gone. Training for the D-
Unlike many villages requisitioned during World War Two, Tyneham was never handed back. In the new world order, Lulworth firing ranges were crucial to our defence and in 1952 the entire valley was compulsorily purchased for £30,000.
It’s nearly Christmas, but there’s little cheer as the last of the villagers leave.
Ralph Bond was only given notice to clear the valley last month – the same day he learned his son Mark was missing in action. His wife Evelyn pins a note to the church door imploring the Army to ‘treat the church and houses with care.’ It concludes:
‘We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’
Many leave reluctantly, particularly the elderly, but with the enemy just across the Channel, others are relieved.
Articles in the press had kept the village that ‘Died for D-
Tyneham was open on public holidays to permit access to the beach, but the village remained behind barbed wire as nature reclaimed the derelict homes.
August bank holiday and in keeping with the radical spirit of the times, Rodney Legg and the Tyneham Action Group are demonstrating in the car park. A display of old photographs shows the village in its heyday.
Having enlisted former villagers like war veteran John Gould and Philip Draper, whose father built ‘Sheepleaze’ on the cliff above the beach in 1910, they’re campaigning for the valley to be given to the National Trust. The Army has enraged protestors by dismantling Tyneham House with 14th and 15th century stonework removed to stately homes at Bingham’s Melcombe and Athelhampton.
Public and political pressure eventually forced the Government’s hand.
In 1974 Lord Nugent was commissioned to investigate military land holdings, but although he recommended the release of Lulworth ranges a White Paper subsequently rejected the report and the increasingly factionalised campaigners had to settle for greater access instead. The first church service for 36 years was held at St Mary’s in 1979.
Dave and his team are on the church roof replacing the rotten timbers. Years of neglect have taken their toll but work is progressing well. The boards have been removed from the windows and morning sunlight is streaming into the church for the first time in over thirty years.
Since the protesters’ battle lines dissolved, the Army has been working to open Range Walks and plans to have many of the cottages cleared, their dilapidated roofs removed and broken walls made safe.
The Army’s presence has prevented Tyneham’s surrender to tourism.
The refurbished schoolroom opened in 1994, followed by Tyneham Farm in 2008 where, a year later, the first concert in the village for more than 70 years was staged.
Arthur Grant is at the newly renovated St Mary’s Church. His family lost its home here in 1943, but he’s back today for a carol service to mark the 60th anniversary of the evacuation.
There’s a warm atmosphere inside as Mark Bond arrives to greet people that were once his family’s tenants and servants.
‘My thoughts go back to Tyneham at Christmas because we had such fun carol singing,’ says Arthur. ‘Nobody thought anything of walking and we’d go all over the village, up to the House and over to Kimmeridge. We had flasks of tea and mince pies as we went. Beautiful times.’
Today and tomorrow
Byelaws prevent the commercial development of Tyneham, which is why you won’t find a gift shop there. Instead more humble pleasures can be enjoyed: the rich wildlife, the range walks, swimming from the beach, the wealth of historical interest, or simply soaking up the deep sense of peace.
Much has been written in which this place is cast as somehow lost, a ghost village. It’s neither lost nor dead, but it has evolved in unfamiliar ways and remains one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Tyneham gave its heart for its country in 1943, but with sympathetic management its soul will survive for generations to come.
Nick Churchill 2011