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Dorset Echo, Monday 22 December 2003

Return to Tyneham's refurbished church

SIXTY years after being evacuated from the Dorset village of Tyneham, a group of villagers returned to their former home for an emotional reunion.

Around a dozen former residents shared their memories of village life and the shock of evacuation, as the military took over the site, at a special carol service at the newly refurbished Tyneham Church.

They were invited back to see extensive refurbishment in the church to reflect its unique history.

Swanage-based artist Lynda Price created the display, which features a row of coloured hand-made tiles spelling out the surnames of all the members of the once-thriving community.

And oak-panelled boards depict pictures of community life between 1900 and 1943, explained with quotes and memories from former residents.

Former resident Douglas Churchill said it was emotional to be back in Tyneham.

"I was 15 when I left here and it's unbelievable to be back," he said. "To come up the church steps again after 60 years is incredible."

And Maj Gen Mark Bond said: "I come back quite often but this is a big turnout. I can't believe it was 60 years ago that we were evacuated."

Freddy Stickland, 86, moved to Plymouth after his family were evacuated and travelled back for the service. "It's lovely to be back," he said.

Lynda Price said she was pleased with the residents' reaction to her two-year labour of love. "The research was the hardest part," she said. "And I'm sure that now it's finished, it will inspire even more residents to get in touch.

"I wanted to bring colour to the church but the most important thing was always that the display had to be sympathetic to its surroundings. That's why I've used hand-made tiles, oak panelling and wrought iron.

"I'm pleased with the general effect and I feel now that the church has come to life again."


Dorset Echo, Tuesday 9 December 2003

Evicted families to return for carols

FAMILIES who were forced out of a village 60 years ago are being invited back this Christmas.

Former residents of the 'ghost village' of Tyneham, near Lulworth, will join army officials and dignitaries for a carol service in the newly-refurbished 12th century church on Sunday, December 21.

An almost idyllic life at Tyneham came to an end one night in 1943 when the 225 residents were told they had to leave so the area could be used as a military training site in preparation for the Normandy landings.

The Purbeck village was largely untouched by the modern world, so it came as a great shock for residents to hear they had to leave.

Despite promises that Tyneham would be restored to them after the war, villagers were never allowed back into their homes and now deer and birds are the only residents of the shell-shattered beauty spot.

To enhance the public's enjoyment and understanding of this unique corner of Dorset the army has produced a new display in the church highlighting the daily lives of Tyneham inhabitants between 1900 and 1943.

Produced by Swanage-based designer Lynda Price, it includes sepia photographs and hand-painted lettering displayed on the oak panelled walls.

Written directly on to the wood are quotes from former villagers about life in the rural community and below the panelling is a frieze of specially-made tiles with the names of residents. The top is capped in decorative ironwork.

The 18th century oak pews and gates at the church have been restored to their original positions.

An army spokesman said the memories of the former residents were key elements in the success of the project and they were being invited back to the village as guests of honour at the carol service.

The service will be held in the church at 2.15pm and attendance is by invitation only.


Bournemouth Echo, Tuesday 18 November 2003

Return to Tyneham

IT'S a place like no other, certainly not in this part of the world. The echoes of a way of life long since past rattle around its part-renovated ruins. There is a strange, uneasy peace as if the place itself is all too aware of the contradictions brought to bear upon it.

Cradled in the long arms of the Purbeck hills, Tyneham Valley is a land that time forgot and has only recently rediscovered.

Sixty years ago, on December 19, 1943 the villagers of Tyneham and the farmers in the surrounding valley - not to mention the Bond family that occupied Tyneham House, one of Purbeck's most impressive country houses - left their homes for the last time. They were never to return.

Tyneham Valley was requisitioned by the War Department and turned over to British and American troops for extended exercises in the run-up to D-Day.

Despite a solemn promise delivered by the government of the day that the village would be returned to its inhabitants at the end of the war, it has been retained as part of the Lulworth gunnery range ever since.

That chill December day at the height of World War Two was treated much like any other by the departing villagers. Some left their bicycles propped against garden walls; others opened windows in their cottages to air stuffy rooms. As the last of them left, one pinned a notice to the church door. It read: "Please treat the church and houses with care. We have given up our homes, where many of us have 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."

Photographs taken by the US military at the end of the War suggest that, by and large, the troops did indeed treat the village with care.

And yet Tyneham has lain dormant ever since. Its one-time residents carried on the winds of change until but a few remain living anywhere near the decrepit rows of cottages, fallen-down walls and long-overgrown paths.

The lingering arguments over its return ran out of steam years ago - a campaign lead by Dorset author Rodney Legg in the late '60s and early '70s took the matter to Westminster. It was decreed that Tyneham should remain under the wing of the military as no practicable way could be found for Tyneham to make sense in the modern world.

Indeed, it was woefully behind the times even in the 1920s and '30s when Arthur Grant was growing up in its kindly bosom.

"There was no gas or electric; no running water. We lived down by the stream and had to collect water from a tap in buckets. The toilet was outside - a bucket covered by a wooden bench. The only heat we had was from open fires and there was only one coal delivery made a year. That came by steam wagon and my father had a ton and a half at a time. We kept it in the pig sty at home," says the 81-year-old retired photographer who now lives in Wareham with his wife Grace. They celebrated their golden wedding earlier this year.

Arthur's father and mother, Harry and Marjorie, had moved to Tyneham in 1924 when Harry took over the position of woodman at Tyneham House. Arthur was two years old and stayed in the village until he went to sea 13 years later as a salon boy on the Union Castle shipping line.

"I remember it as a happy time. Everything revolved around the church and Tyneham House. Nobody owned their own homes - except The Bungalow, which was Mrs Wheeler; and Sheepleaze which was Draper. As kids we played and got up to mischief but it was mostly related to the chores we had to do.

"We grew vegetables and at potato time I had a terrible job doing battle with whinnyweed - bind weed - which grew all over the place."

Although the village had a small post office cum general stores - three people would fill the shop floor - most of the villagers' groceries came from delivery runs made by Head's of Stoborough and Cooper's of Corfe Castle who would take an order one week and deliver it the next.

But the young Arthur was an enterprising soul. He found out that Farmer Smith, or Leath'ry Weskit as the kids called him, used to charge visitors in cars to open gates for them. It wasn't long before Arthur was charging drivers sixpence a gate to open every gate from the main road on Creech Hill down to the Row, the first phalanx of cottages that greets the visitor to Tyneham.

"Old Jack Miller, who lived in Sea Cottage, used to let us have an old boat and we'd go mackerel fishing out in the Bay. Then we'd slide down the hill on sheets of galvanised steel. We'd go sticking - picking up sticks in the woods or out of the hedgerows - to bring home as kindling for the fire. I sang in the choir and when my voice went I turned the organ in the church.

"And my thoughts always go back to Tyneham at Christmas because we had such fun carol singing. Nobody thought anything of walking in those days and we'd go all over the village, up to the House of course and even over to Kimmeridge. We had flasks of tea and mince pies as we went. Beautiful times."

Tyneham School closed (because of declining numbers) in 1932 as, although few were listening, the bells already tolled for Tyneham's end. The children were bussed to Corfe in search of education and the school enjoyed a brief period of revitalisation as a village hall; while the horse chestnut that overhung the playground (and still does) was spared the attentions of the village's conker-knights on weekdays.

There are those who have argued that the world of Tyneham was big enough for its inhabitants. Not so. Even something as small as travelling to Corfe to school was enough to broaden horizons. Suddenly the world didn't seem so small to Arthur Grant.

He left school and took his first job, as a pantry boy at Tyneham House which was then leased to a South African doctor called Hans Sauer.

"I eventually became under footman and had a room at the House to live in. There were so many servants. It was my job to polish shoes and clean knives, as well as polishing the dining room table. I remember once being sent for a bottle of port from the cellar, but I disturbed it on the way back up and I had to go back for another. That's how I learned about crusted port!"

But Arthur had made an impression on the lady of the house, Cecilia, who offered him the chance to join the family at their Irish home when the lease on Tyneham House expired. He turned it down but accepted her offer of an introduction to her brother, a captain on the Union Castle line.

And so began the Merchant Navy career that meant he missed the evacuation of Tyneham.

"We were running troop ships during the War - I got badly bombed off the coast of Ireland once - but it meant we could be away for six months or more at a time. When I came home on leave I would call my grandfather who had the post office at East Stoke and he would come and pick me up from Wareham in his baby Austin. He always grumbled that he couldn't fit my trunk in the car!

"Then one time he came to collect me and told me we weren't going back to Tyneham but that I should ask my father why not. That was how I found out. It was a shame, but then I'd left Tyneham in search of adventure and things had to move on I suppose.

"Yes, the government broke its promise and it probably should have been returned to the villagers, but it wasn't to be. I find it a little upsetting to go back there now because you can hardly see the old place. They've done such a lot of work in making it safe, but of course I still see it as a living, breathing place. My home."

Some 40 odd homes were evacuated in 1943. Of the 225 displaced persons, many had been born in Tyneham or the surrounding valley. Some had never been as far away as Wareham; a few had never even left the village.

Ironic then that Arthur should have made his early adult life travelling the world - first as a merchant seaman on ships from Southampton to South Africa, then after the war as a steward on the Quantas Empire airline that flew former RAF flying boats and converted Lancaster bombers on passenger runs from London to Sydney.

We sit talking over old times and he shows me a list of the places he has visited. From Calcutta to Cape Town; Delhi to Durban he has set foot on most of the Earth's continents and many of its countries; and yet, at the age of 81, he finds himself in a small market town just a few miles from his boyhood home.

We talk about the day he met the Queen (on a royal flight in 1954), how he took his young wife Grace to Australia; we mull over the receipt for his kit items when he joined the Merchant Navy, and yet the conversation repeatedly returns to Tyneham.

Not so much to the big events, but the incidentals to everyday life that add so much colour when viewed through 60 years of hindsight.

The village was almost the final resting place of feudal England. Its lords and masters - the Bond family - reigned over the valley for hundreds of years.

The Bonds' rule was one of kindly concern and benevolence, the easy paternalism that ensured the survival of the status quo. A place for everything and everyone in their place. Even the church - where one would have thought all would be equal in the eyes of the Lord - has its own entrance for the Bonds to the private chapel.

"It's strange that Tyneham fills such a big space in my life yet I didn't live there very long really. It felt like home," sighs Arthur.

There's no place like home... and there's no place like Tyneham.

The Telegraph, 30 September 2003

The village that died

Deserted Tyneham provides a fascinating glimpse of life in pre-war England, says Morag Reavley

It's the silence that chills. Not the shrapnel on the roadside, the exploded tanks in the grassland around, or the blood-red signs warning of danger. No, it is the stillness of this autumn day - no cars, no machinery, no human sounds.

At the bottom of the dusty hillside track I can make out the tower of a church and the outlines of greystone houses, a dark copse shrouding what must be the village centre. Closer to, though, the buildings have neither roofs nor windows, weeds weave through the walls and fireplaces, and the ponds are thick with lily pads. The figures drifting around are sombre, contemplative as at a funeral.

For this is Tyneham, a forgotten field that will be forever 1943. This Domesday-listed village, tucked into a fold of swooping Dorset countryside, became a casualty of war unlike any other British community. Its misfortune was to be situated near the gunnery ranges attached to the Royal Armoured Corps Gunnery School based at Lulworth Camp, an area used as a tank firing range since 1916. By the middle of the Second World War the Lulworth range was judged inadequate for the more powerful weapons being developed. To expand the range the area occupied by the village of Tyneham and surrounding farms had to be evacuated.

The villagers left almost 60 years ago, just before Christmas 1943, with the assurance of the Government - "Churchill's pledge" - that they would be able to return after the war. A note was pinned to the church door: "Please treat the church and houses with care. We have given up our homes where many of us have 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 never returned. When the war ended the continued military occupation of the area was deemed still necessary and the villagers remained forever resettled. A public enquiry upheld the occupation, despite protests and reviews that rumbled on amid controversy and recriminations until the 1970s.

The MoD did, though, allow access to the village and the surrounding land when live firing is not taking place. At weekends the village sees human life of a non-artillery nature. The Church of St Mary the Virgin, to which the plaintive plea was pinned, is almost as the villagers left it. There are stone monuments to ancient squires and faithful servants, a medieval piscina, an altar. But the Jacobean pulpit is on loan to Lulworth Camp, and the bells and organ have been relocated to other churches. Display boards inside add flesh to the bare bones of the village, explaining which family lived in each house. The ghosts begin to take on names, occupations, characters - the Pritchards, the Millers, the Bonds.

Inside the raftered schoolhouse, the realness of the former inhabitants is inescapable. Restored to its earlier condition, the single schoolroom is just as the children left it. Benches are lined up in neat rows with ancient inkwelled desks; coat pegs are labelled with names of the classmates; a vase is filled with wild flowers. Lessons in the village would have been fitted around the farming and fishing. An inspector's report of 1921 noted frowningly that the school's sanitation was deficient, and that sheep and ducks roamed freely outside.

Along the unmetalled roads there are no street lamps, no signs, no shops, no drainage or water pipes - none of the urban furniture of the last 60 years. A tree planted in 1911 commemorates the coronation of George V. A tap of spring water and drinking trough remain where villagers filled their pails. The telephone box outside the former post office is the only touch of modernity. A reinforced concrete box with finial is a pre-Gilbert Scott kiosk in the Post Office's 1921 Kiosk No. 1 design. Signs inside warning "I am on war work. If you must use me, be brief" are one of the few signs of this village's wartime fate. Mostly it seems to belong to an even earlier age.

Not all the village has survived. The Elizabethan manor house - home of the village squires - was demolished by the MoD and parts incorporated into buildings elsewhere. Its 17th-century panelling, wooden overmantel and ancient glass are on display in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. The grandest house left in the village is the rectory. Stone pediments above the doorway and a paved courtyard still mark its social distinction. In its sheltered garden a palm tree suggests the last vicar's green fingers. Touches of domesticity - a washing tub, the twisted metal remains of fireplaces; some lead drain piping - remain in the other houses too, a reminder that life was far from a ruritanian idyll.

Visitors to the village can usually wander farther afield, taking a circular walk through the surrounding valley down to Worborrow, providing they don't stray off the marked paths. Rare plants such as the dark green fritillary and wild cabbage flourish in the ruins and medieval fields; kestrels, sika deer and skylarks grow up in the wilderness.

It is an irony acknowledged by those angry about the village's fate that Tyneham's closure was the very thing that ensured its natural survival - no modern deep-ploughing methods have disturbed an ecological order untouched for centuries.

Inside the church the Great War memorial is dedicated to the six Tyneham men, aged between 21 and 38, who gave their lives - a toll that can have left no family in this tiny community untouched. "All men must die. It is only given to the few to die for their country." When the whole village gave up its existence 25 years later, it was a bitter-sweet privilege.

Tyneham is located on the MoD's Lulworth Range, south Dorset. Lulworth Range walks are normally accessible every Saturday and Sunday except for six weekends in the year. They are also open during Christmas, Easter, all of August and on all public holidays. A recording of up-to-date information can be heard on 01929 462721, ext. 4819. Further information on walks on the Lulworth Range and MoD lands in general can be found at


Dorset Echo, Tuesday 8 April 2003

Phantom in focus?

IS there a ghost in Tyneham who keeps popping up whenever someone gets out a camera?

Back in February we published a photo taken through the window of a derelict cottage in the lost village of Tyneham.

It was snapped by Christopher Grist, of Bournemouth, who nearly jumped out of his skin when he had the photo developed and saw in the background what appeared to be the ghostly figure of a soldier.

That picture prompted Mr Robert Gardner, of Orchard Close, Creekmoor, to send to Snapshots a photo he, too, had taken in Tyneham.

"Approximately seven years ago I visited Tyneham and took various photographs of different sights. To my surprise one of the pictures I had developed showed a 'ghostly' figure above my wife's head," he wrote.

"It is uncanny the resemblance of the picture you produced and my photograph, don't you think?

"I did an enlargement of my original photograph to the same proportion and they fit exactly. Spooky or what?"

The Purbeck village of Tyneham was evacuated in December 1943 when taken over by the Army. After the war the villagers were never allowed to return.

As with the first photo, some people can see the "ghostly" shape; others can't.

Mr Grist, when making his original appeal, asked if any Snapshots readers had heard of any ghostly experiences at the village.

Apart from Mr Gardner's letter and photo of what could be a photogenic spook, the response has been eerily quiet.


News from 2003