1969: Army opens gunnery beaches to public

From a staff reporter

Lulworth, Dorset, Aug. 4

The restricted beaches inside the Royal Armoured Corps Gunnery School range areas which civilians were asked to leave two weekends ago were opened to the public today, the start of the school’s summer leave. The operation of clearing the approaches to the beaches at Mupes and Worbarrow Bays finished shortly before civilian access was allowed.

Residents had complained that the beaches were being used by army personnel while the public was banned.  A protect “invasion” of the beaches was planned for last Sunday but only one family and a couple of holidaymakers went to Mupes Bay. The army did not interfere.

After firing last Wednesday, 40 men spent 1,000 hours patrolling the authorized approaches. A final sweep across the shingle and rocks of Mupes Bay was made a short time before it was decided to let the public on to the beach.

Colonel A.H.N. Reade, commandant of the gunnery school, said it would take months to cover the necessary terrain with mine detectors and would require the checking of every possible bit of metal. The Army point out that if they tackled the area in the way the beaches would “never be open to the public”.

Instead, the patrols search with eyes, boots and sticks, systematically stamping the ground and prodding it to see if there is anything lying on the surface. They cover the paths and verges and 10 yards across the fences, signposted with warnings.

The main dispute between the civilians who want access to the beaches outside firing hours at other times of the year and the authorities is that the military personnel and their families can go down to the beaches with special permission.

Mrs. Margaret Kraft, of Milborne Wood, Dewlish, a vigorous campaigner for the release of the Tyneham Valley from the range area said she was prepared to help anyone who wanted free access to what she regarded as the finest beaches between Eastbourne and Devon.

Lord Salisbury’s plea:

Lord Salisbury, aged 76, said on the I.T.N. programme World in Action last night that the residents, who gave up their homes in 1943 so that the area could be used as a shooting range, responded to the coalition government’s appeal out of patriotic duty. They were told they could return when the war ended but they still had not returned.

Lord Salisbury, a former M.P. for South Dorset, urged the Government to try to right the wrong “which these good people have suffered”.

Published by The Times, Tuesday 5 August 1969

1968: The army reclaims a beautiful spot – for shelling

Letter to The Times

From Philip Howard – Tyneham, Dorset, Sept. 2

All today, holiday crowds lay on the beach at Worbarrow Bay, happily staring up at the craggy cliffs of the Dorset coast. Children screamed in the surf: other people sprawled on the strange grassy mound called the Tout, brooding over their transistor radios, and looking down to Lulworth Cove with the waves frothing in and out of the mysterious caves.

The only difference between this and a thousand other Bank holiday beaches is that it really is one of the most beautiful stretches of wild coast in Britain and nobody will be able to visit again until Christmas. From tomorrow morning the crump of big guns and the squeal of armoured cars and tanks will replace the picnickers and the bikinis.

The bay, the ghost village of Tyneham behind it and the whole valley will be beauty spots no longer. They will become again what they are for the rest of the year, except for Bank holidays and the month of August: part of the 10,000 acres of Royal Armoured Corps ranges, which stretch over nine miles of the coast here, strictly out of bounds to the general public, fenced off with barbed wire, with frequent notices about unexploded shells, and with a lurid placard of skulls and crossbones.

The Army pumps £4m. of shells into the area during an average year.  But never on Bank holidays.

A group of local residents spent the holiday here today in a demonstration to try to persuade the military to give back to the public this piece of the range. Hideous traffic jams built up on the narrow road through the bracken. Many hundreds of people made the pilgrimage between the barbed wire and the rusty skeletons of tanks to the beach.

The campaign did a brisk trade in leaflets and membership forms. There was a nostalgic display of pictures of what Tyneham looked like before it became a range. And all day there was a running dialogue between holidaymakers and the campaigners around their trestle table with their charts and placards.

“You’ve got to have gunnery ranges somewhere. Now, haven’t you?” barked a military-looking gentleman in a blazer.

Crowds peered at the derelict buildings of the village, which has been deserted for 25 years, and looked through the trees for the decaying Elizabethan manor house, which is being stripped of its Purbeck stone.

A 6ft. cross painted red, “marked the spot of a broken promise”, for, when the Government assumed responsibility for Tyneham House in 1943, it promised to return the house after the war.

In some ways, today’s demonstration was almost too successful. The fulmars, which are one of the rare attractions of these cliffs, might find such large, enthusiastic crowds every day around their lonely homes nearly as tiresome as bombardment by tanks.

The campaigners grew hoarse explaining why Tyneham is unique and must be recovered from the Army. The 500ft. cliffs apparently are happy hunting grounds for the geologist. They are thick with fossilized trees and are one of the best examples anywhere of marine erosion of rocks of varying hardness. For the ornithologist there are seabirds he can see nesting in few other parts of Britain. There is the only Iron age promontory fort on the South Coast, which suffers frequent bombardment of a king it was never built to withstand. There is the scenery and the coastal paths and the little beach set in the silver sea.

Whether these arguments will melt the heart of the Ministry of defence is perhaps doubtful. But they certainly sent today’s visitors home glowing with enthusiasm for English heritage.

The first tanks invented came to shoot along this stretch of Dorset in 1916. Gradually, as guns became bigger, Tyneham valley became vulnerable to overshooting, and it was taken over in 1943, with the assumption that it would be handed back after the war. Then , in 1948, and the cold war, the Army compulsorily purchased it. The overshoot area now stretches 14 miles out to sea. And a new line of targets for armoured cars has recently been put up along the line of the cliffs.

Until the next Bank holiday, the fulmars and the cliffs and the view will all be out of bounds again to everything except high explosives.

Published by The Times, Tuesday 3 September 1968

1968: Dorset manor house being given away

By Rita Marshall

The Ministry of Defence has been giving away some of the last surviving parts of the derelict fourteenth-century Tyneham manor house, which for the past 25 years has been on the Lulworth artillery range, Dorset.

Brigadier Martin (Mark sic) Bond, the head of a family that had lived in the house for nearly 500 years, is serving in west Germany. “This is the end of a long, sad and rather disgraceful story”, he told me from Osnabrück, “I feel pretty sour.”

The Bond family, villagers and farmers from the Tyneham valley, were evacuated in 1943. In 1952, after disputes, the war Office compulsorily acquired the house.

Wartime sacrifice

Since 1943 it has been deteriorating. Now, what vandals, weather, neglect and ricochet bullets have left, has been given away to owners of other manor houses and museums.

Brigadier Bond said: “In 1943 when the whole valley was evacuated we accepted it as a wartime sacrifice. It was implied to us all, although not in writing, that it would be all right to go back when the emergency was over.

“Some months ago the Ministry of defence land offices wrote to tell me of proposals to give away some of the pieces of the house that were left. I replied slightly angrily that that was the affair of the Ministry. I no longer had any authority over the house. On that sour note the correspondence ended.”

The Ministry of Defence’s gift has been, for at least two men, a costly business.

Lord Southborough, in his house, Bingham’s Melcombe, near Dorchester, has a stone doorway of the fourteenth or fifteenth century and a porch, dated 1583, from Tyneham.

“I have these pieces because the Royal Commission on  Historical Monuments was getting very concerned about the state of this house in the middle of the artillery range”, he said.

“It makes you want to weep to see an old house in this state. It has cost me four figures to remove, transport, and absorb these pieces into my house, but I regard it as a patriotic act.”

Mr. Robert Cooke, M.P. for Bristol, West, of Athelhampton Hall, Dorset, has stone facing blocks from Tyneham. He told the royal commission that he could not see how to accommodate part of the fourteenth-century Tyneham in his own fifteenth-sixteenth-century home. Eventually he agreed to incorporate some of the stone in works at the rear, which are Victorian in origin and not in keeping with their surroundings. Bringing the stones from Tyneham was costly, he said.

The royal commission said parts of Tyneham had gone to other homes. The National Trust had some stone roofing material which it was keeping until needed.

When it became known that parts of Tyneham were being given away there was local concern. The south-east Dorset area planning subcommittee, who were asked to keep an eye on the house before it was taken over by the Army, called for a report from the Ministry of Public Building and Works.

‘With regret’

The Ministry sent details of the steady deterioration of the property which the planning committee “noted with regret”. The Ministry said that any thought of restoring the house was out of the question. ”There is no public access to the house, it has been falling very steadily into a derelict state. It was thought that to give away the remaining pieces was the right thing to do. The Bond family were consulted and had no objection.”

Brigadier Bond said: “I am very grateful to these public-spirited people who have taken some of the pieces. At least something of Tyneham will be preserved.”

Published by The Times, Tuesday 9 April 1968