As time passed by . . . this is Tyneham’s story

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-Day landings.

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-tenant farmers, nearly all the villagers depended on the Bonds for a living.

Six o’clock in the morning and 11-year-old Fred Lucas is filling buckets from the village water pump. He lives in Shepherd’s Cottage at the end of The Row with his parents, nine brothers and sisters and baby nephew.

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-Day landings which were to happen in six months time began in earnest.

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-Day’ in the public eye.

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

Hollow Ditch and a Hollow Promise

by Roy Martin

Hollow Ditch Farm was at West Creech; about one kilometre, five furlongs, north-west of Creech Grange, which we knew as Grange House. The farmhouse and outbuildings seem to be built mainly of sandstone, with brick corners. The farmers who lived there were tenants of the Bond family.

Matthew Langrish Charles (1866-1939) and his wife Susan Priscilla Charles (1877-1947) (pictured below) were the tenants in the 1920s and probably earlier. Aunt Sue was a Balson from the hamlet of Whiteway. She had married Uncle Mat at Tyneham in July 1913, when she was 26, over twenty years younger than him. In the 1891 census Matthew was living at Egglestone (Egliston) with his parents William & Emma Charles. Matthew was recorded as an Agricultural Labourer and his father as a Shepherd; in 1901 Matthew was still there but described as a Carter.  By 1911 he was living at Hollow Ditch with his father, and was recorded as an ‘Estate Labourer’.

Aunt Sue & Uncle Mat at Hollow Ditch in the 1930s

My father, Gerald Charles Martin, was born at Whiteway in 1916. His Dorchester born father, Alma Victor Martin, was killed on 18 November 1916 in the Battle of Ancre, the last day of the Battle of the Somme. His mother Edith Ellen Martin (neé Balson), Susan’s sister, contracted TB and was sent to the Sanatorium at Poole. As she was unable to look after her little boy he was sent to Hollow Ditch; a rather lonely boy as there were no other children, though the Cake family were at the nearby Whitehall Farm. He seems not to have been formally adopted.

There was a small primary school at Creech and for his secondary education my father cycled daily to Wareham. I sometimes think how different his life might have been if he had been able to go to the new Grammar School at Swanage, he was certainly bright enough, but the money would not have been there.

My father and mother met when she was ‘in service’ at Grange House, then just about the only opportunity for a working class girl. When they married in 1936 Mat and Sue bought them a small bungalow at Wool, being a prudent couple they charged the young Martins rent of ten shillings a week – so that the young couple would ‘learn the value of money’. From there Dad could motor cycle to work at Bovington Camp. I was born there later that year.

My memories of Hollow Ditch must be from 1943, by this time Aunt Sue was a widow.

I remember making butter in a small glass churn; now I see the photograph of Sue’s solitary cow I can see why we only made enough for ourselves. Other memories include sorting the stored apples to throw out any that had ‘gone off’ and eating wild strawberries on the banks of Pike’s clay pit railway to their Povington mine. I suffered bad stomach ache after those strawberries!

In 2009 I contacted the military at Lulworth Camp and they were kind enough to arrange for a Ranger, with a 4×4, to take us where ever we wanted to go. We first headed to Hollow Ditch;  I wished that my parents could have seen it once more, but it is now a sad sight. There were no strawberries to be seen, but there was still fruit in the orchard. We then went to Whiteway, but there is even less there. What came to mind at both sites were the ‘then and now’ photographs of Normandy, with the buildings all rebuilt: and the similar devastation at the South Georgian whaling stations, where I also took many photographs.

Uncle Mat died in 1939; so when the eviction notice arrived in November 1943 Aunt Sue was living alone. By that time my father was in Italy with the Royal Engineers and most of the male Balsons and her mother were dead, so she must have felt rather alone. She moved to Kimmeridge, where she lived together with a refugee called Eva (pronounced Ava).

Like the other evacuees Sue was never allowed to return to her home. She died at 22 Kimmeridge in 1947 and Eva moved to a small bungalow at the junction of Holme Lane and Grange Road. The old house now looks as if it will be swallowed up by the West Creech Clay pit, a giant white hole.

It would seem that the military is able to sell the land it requisitioned, but will not allow the families to return to their homes. A Hollow Promise indeed.

We are very grateful to Roy Martin for writing this feature for us. If you would like to write a feature about your ancestors from Tyneham parish, please get in touch at

Rodney Legg quotes Mrs S P White

One of the younger girls, Edith, worked at Tyneham house. She married but her husband was also killed in the war and she was left with a little boy.  Later she died and was always discussed in grim whispers (galloping consumption and a broken heart) but Gerald was brought up by another aunt at Hollow Ditch, a smallholding north-west of Creech Grange. I spent many happy holidays with them and the more familiar with that part.

This was a sturdy little house with little windows and thick walls. Large cupboards by the fireplace house hams and smoked bacon. Breakfast there were marvellous meals – my aunt and uncle having done hours of work fetching the cows and milking by hand, had by this time developed large appetites. Hence we had masses of eggs, thick slices of bacon and chitterlings and soft potato cakes. Sometimes they cooked eels which cousin Gerald had teased me with early in the morning.

Mother’s name was Beatrice Bessie Balson, and you can imagine how she was teased about that. Her sister, Susan, who lived at Hollow Ditch, married Matthew Charles.

At Hollow Ditch there was a large russet apple tree, large wooden butter pats with intricate patterns, and rows of lovely golden butter laid on a tray ready to go to Wareham market. Once a lady named Elsie Cake called, on a straight-up, no-nonsense bicycle with a fancy chain-guard. She hopped off in a most graceful manner, in spite of long skirts and button boots.  I later tried to do the same but came a cropper.

In the evenings I would go across the heath to the Marepool and watch the deer drinking at dusk. It was also from this spot that I watched Lulworth Castle burning (in 1929). My grandparents are buried at Tyneham churchyard and Aunt Susan was buried at Steeple. She ended her days in a cottage at Kimmeridge, having been moved there at the time of the evacuation.  But she always hoped to return to Hollow Ditch…


Balson’s Gap and Malhala’s Fortune by Roy Martin

In her book, Tyneham, A Lost Heritage, Lillian Bond wrote: “The first of the Tyneham woodmen that I remember was a Balson … Old Balson was a little, wiry man as gnarled and woody looking as a tree root. His clothes, well weathered by long use, were the traditional corded leggings and a thick leather coat, topped by a round and ear-flapped headdress of brown fur.”

She goes on to describe him at some length, then says: “His home was in the heath at Povington and he walked to his work, taking as near as possible a bee line over the hill. The track worn by his daily journeys in the course of the years out lasted him for many more, and the place in the hedge where he climbed from the North Hill into Madmore continued, long after his death, to be known as Balson’s Gap.”

To learn about his cottage, which was in the hamlet of Whiteway, we need to go back to earlier William Balsons. The first recorded William Balson (1759–1835) was the son of a John Balson; he married Elizabeth Miller in January 1789. The Millers were, and still are, a fishing family. Their first child Thirza was born in the same year, and their second Mahala arrived in 1791. Their sons Henry and John were born in 1802 and 1804 respectively; there may have also been a William who died young. The next son, Robert, went on to farm at Creekmoor near Poole, where he was described as a Yeoman.

William II, William and Elizabeth’s last recorded son, was born in 1811. He seems to have remained in Purbeck. This William married Elizabeth Snelling (various spellings) on 23 May 1830. They were both nineteen and their first child, a daughter Kizah, was born four months later.

The first entry in Henry Roll’s Journal is: “Wm Balson began billding his house at Whiteway this spring of 1833, over the lake south of the road going to Povington. They went into it in the spring of 1834.” As William I was an old man by now, he died at Tyneham in 1835, the builder seems to have been William II. By this time William II and Elizabeth had a son, John.

William chose well; though the site was on the edge of the heath the chalk steam known as Luckford Lake flowed past. This not only gave a constant supply of clean water, it also neutralized the acid heathland soil. If needed more chalk could be wheeled down from the nearby pit.

How did William get to know of the site? It could be that he had a night job, guiding the smugglers and the landers through the lonely open country, to get their goods across the River Frome to Bere Regis and even on to the Capital? Early in the journey they would have had to cross Whiteway or Povington Hill. Could it have been this Balson, and his convoy, who first made Balson’s Gap? His Miller in-laws would probably been involved!

William’s sister Mahala was twenty years older than him, she had never married. An unnamed child of William and Elizabeth Balson was christened at Corfe Castle on 30 December 1791: as their other early children were also christened at Corfe, it is probable that this was Mahala.

In the 1841 Tyneham census Mahala and her mother Elizabeth are described as paupers; but ten years later she was recorded as an annuitant. By the time she made her will in February 1855 Mahala was living in Wareham. She bequeathed almost five hundred pounds to various members of the family. Her first, and worst, choice was her nephew James, the son of the yeoman Robert. She left this young man £300. Robert was obviously upset that James should have been chosen and only left him five shillings in his own will. James was, or became, a ne’er-do-well; he seems never to have owned a house or land and spent two spells in Dorchester prison. One of Mahala’s other bequests was fifty pounds to William III, who later took over the house at Whiteway; he is the Balson that Lillian Bond wrote about. He was my great grandfather.

How did an elderly spinster end up with a fortune deposited in the Dorchester Bank? Some have said that she was generous, though not free, with her favours. It is difficult to imagine that she amassed the equivalent of fifty years wages in that way! Others say that the money came from smuggling, but why then did she have it and not the others? It is difficult to imagine that she, or the men, would have taken £500 in cash to Dorchester or even to a Wareham branch; without the Magistrates, and the whole County, becoming aware.

The name Mahala is unusual, but not unknown in Dorset. It also occurs in many other languages, including Zulu, where, as Malhala, it means ‘free of charge’ or a gift.

Thank you to Anne Lyons for sending me copies of the wills of Mahala and Robert and my brother Eric Martin for pointing out the possible South African connection. Luckford Lake marks the western extremity of the Isle of Purbeck.

Roy Martin,
December 2014

We are very grateful to Roy Martin for writing this feature for us. If you would like to write a feature about your ancestors from Tyneham parish, please get in touch at