Parish Clerks Network

Daily Mail,  Wednesday 9 June 2004

Shifting Sands: Tyneham

By Peter Hardy

'Please treat the church and houses with care,' said the handwritten note to the Army, pinned to the church door six months before D-Day by the last resident to leave the evacuated village of Tyneham in Dorset.

'We have given up our homes, where many of us have lived for generations, to help win the war to keep men free. We will return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.'

The 225 residents never did return. Moreover, during the final dress rehearsal for the Normandy invasion and for much of the intervening 60 years, the ancient seaside village has suffered harshly. It has been treated as mercilessly as the crumbling cliffs relentlessly pounded by the sea along this wild stretch of the Jurassic Coast.

Generations of squaddies have sheltered behind the walls of its once-neat cottages as training firefights and tank battles raged around them, reducing most of the buildings to ruins.

The ghost village, deep in the MoD artillery ranges of Lulworth, still belongs to the Government. But now time-warped Tyneham is slowly fighting back. On most summer weekends and Bank Holidays the MoD allows limited public access to the thousands of acres of unspoilt countryside around the village.

However, first you have to find it. Tyneham has not featured on a signpost since Forces' sweetheart Vera Lynn topped the 78rpm charts. 'Sudden Gunfire!' warns the road sign as you enter the approach roads to the ranges from either East Lulworth or Wareham.

But visitors who stumble across the winding lane down to the village find a landscape rich in wildlife and rare plants that have escaped the pesticides of the 20th century.

It's a quirky juxtaposition of military warning signs and natural beauty: blue dragonflies hover over a duck pond thick with frog spawn and water lilies; Dorset Horn sheep graze in meadows behind signs warning 'Danger. Keep out. There are bombs and unexploded shells inside. They can kill you'.

'I am on war work,' says the poster in the button-A-and-B red callbox. 'If you must use me, be brief'.

The Elizabethan manor house has been demolished, but two cottages are being restored at a cost of £54,000 - from funds raised by the £1 parking fee.

For now, all that remains intact is the 13th-century church and the village school, meticulously restored to how it would have been on a summer's day in the Twenties.

'The children are out at play, their nature study books left open on their desks, and Mrs Pritchard, the schoolmistress, invites you in to look at their work,' says the notice at the entrance. The sea, once rich in fish, is the reason for Tyneham's existence and it is this dramatic coast - awarded World Heritage status by Unesco in 2001 - that draws visitors to the area.

For most, the favoured port of call is Lulworth Cove, a naturally sheltered bay on the western perimeter of the ranges. The alternative secluded bathing beaches of Man O' War Bay and Durdle Door with its dramatic limestone arch are within easy walking distance.

The Lulworth Beach Hotel is an ideal base. This is a classic example of one of the exciting boutique hotels transforming the great British seaside.

The local owner, former City trader Philip Rudd, bought the run-down property two years ago. He has replaced the squiggly brown carpets and flowered wallpaper with bleached floorboards and bold sea and sand colours. At present the hotel has 12 rooms, but he has recently acquired the adjoining building - where he was born - and the hotel's capacity is set to double.

The hotel menu features such unlikely dishes as bison and pan-seared springbok. On summer weekend evenings, Philip's simple Beach Cafe is transformed into a cramped but hugely enjoyable fresh fish barbecue, more reminiscent of Darwin than Dorset.

The Priory Hotel, in the walled Saxon town of Wareham, is a more sophisticated alternative. The 16th-century former priory is furnished with the owner's fabulous collection of antiques and is renowned for its cuisine.

The hotel sits in a delightfully peaceful position beside the church, with extensive shaded gardens stretching along the bank of the River Frome.

Wherever you stay, the basic requirements for an enjoyable trip to this corner of Dorset are a large-scale ordnance survey map and a pair of walking boots.

With the aid of both you can find your way down single-track lanes and footpaths to secret coves backed by fossil-rich cliffs that are 140 million years old.

My favourite is Kimmeridge Bay on the eastern end of the range, where fingers of rock sneak out from the shore into shallows that provide safe family bathing.

At one end of this stretch of coast lie the stark ruins of Corfe Castle, a medieval stronghold destroyed during the Civil War; at the other, Lulworth Castle, a grand 17th-century hunting lodge, gutted by fire in 1929, is being carefully restored.

But on summer weekends the real joy of this area lies between the two, in the verdant valley of Tyneham.

Catch it when you


Dorset Echo, Tuesday, 16 March 2004

Lost way of life

WITH a heavy heart, Helen Taylor, the last resident to leave the Purbeck village of Tyneham on a fateful day in 1943, wrote a message that was pinned to the church door.

It read: "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 and keep men free.

"We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly."

Who would have guessed then that the 225 folk from Tyneham and the surrounding hamlets who were evacuated would never return to their homes?

Helen, who had worked as a seamstress at Tyneham, died six years ago, aged 97.

She spent her final years in a Swanage rest home owned by Poole writer Dr Andrew Norman, a onetime GP, who taped her reminiscences and, together with co-author Mary Hurst, a nurse who has written a prize-winning dissertation on cancer care, turned her words into a book that gives a remarkable insight into life in the lost village.

Helen's family came to the village in 1902 where her dad, William, found work as a woodman on the estate and her mum, Emily, became the laundress for Tyneham House and the rectory.

They moved into Laundry Cottage, the only dwelling in the village with water. Everyone else fetched water in buckets from the pump.

"Every month my mother, along with the other village women including the rector's wife, walked the five miles to Wareham to stock up with provisions," Helen recalled. "These they loaded onto perambulators which they had taken with them for the purpose."

Emily was in demand thanks to her medicinal expertise in the use of plants and herbs, for the nearest doctor was several hours ride away.

"All agreed that her nettle-and-dandelion tea was an excellent restorative and, for burns, spiders' cobwebs were found to be efficacious."

Emily was also busy working as the caretaker at the church and school; by contrast her husband was a solitary man who loved to be out working in the woodland.

Meanwhile the young Helen would attend the village school that stood within a stone's throw of her house.

"One drawback," she recalled, "was the absence of any windows on the south wall, which meant we had to rely on candles to light the classroom."

The school's head was Miss Norah Woodman who taught her pupils to count using beads. Families had to pay 2d (less than 1p) per child per month to go towards her salary of £25 a year. At 9am every morning the children would march round the playground to salute the Union Flag.

A rare insight into Tyneham village life is painted by Helen Taylor's observations of many of the villagers going about their business in those early 20th century days.

There was Shepherd Lucas, for example, who lived with his wife and sheepdog Sam in The Row. He was hardly to be seen at lambing time when up in the hills with his flock; a man of many whistles but few words.

Among the fishermen was Henry Miller from Worbarrow.

"You could tell which Dorset village a fisherman came from by the distinctive pattern on his jersey," Helen recalled. "The Worbarrow men had three strips of ribbing on the chest, one horizontal and two vertical, with the middle filled in with little triangles to represent the waves."

Traditionally you could also tell a person's trade by his smock and in Helen's day a great character called George Richards, a farm labourer, still wore one.

He was never sure of the days of the week and was sometimes spotted working on Sundays when Helen would be dispatched to alert him that it was his rest day.

Although the Worbarrow folk worshipped at Tyneham it was very much a self-contained community.

Once Helen heard Henry talking to Mr W H Bond, the squire of Tyneham House, about the smuggling that used to on.

Brandy was brought from France and stored in a cave before being moved to another cave in Tyneham Wood, concealed with brambles. It was rumoured that the smugglers would slip the rector a keg or two to keep him sweet.

And although Henry spoke of it in the past tense, Helen suspected the smuggling was still going on.

The village post office in The Row, run by Mrs Barnes, was a focal point in Tyneham that sold all the usual treats for a child such as aniseed balls, and humbugs, as well as other necessary provisions.

The First World War devastated Tyneham. Helen's stepbrother, William George Meech was among the young men of the village who lost their lives, as well as her brothers Arthur and Bert.

Her widowed mother, Emily, died soon afterwards, aged 52, worn out, it was said, by work and grief.

Before the war ended Helen left school, at the age of 14, to start work as a seamstress, under the supervision of the meticulous Miss Hursworth, at Tyneham House.

Tyneham life carried on in its steady way, with Helen starting work at 7am and often not returning until the early hours.

Dr Norman and Mary Hurst, drawing on Helen's memories, recall everything from the Lulworth Castle fire in 1929 to the habit of T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who would get annoyed by the closed gates when visiting the neighbourhood and would charge at them, head-on, on his motorbike.

"This made him unpopular with the farmers who one day decided to catch him out by locking them."

Tyneham School closed in 1932 and its 13 pupils had to travel afield to other schools.

Mr W H Bond, of the big house, died in 1935 and, three years later Mr Ralph Bond and his family moved in, installing electricity for the first time. And the following year Britain declared war on Germany.

No-one could possibly know then that it would soon herald the end of Tyneham village life.

On November 17 1943 the postman arrived at Laundry House with that fateful letter addressed to Helen Taylor and her older sister Bessie, telling them and the other villagers - that they had 28 days to evacuate their homes, for the area was being taken over by the Army.

Helen, then 42 years of age, said to Bessie: " So that is that, I suppose."

She was right.

The displaced pair moved to Corfe where they took in laundry from neighbours to make ends meet. Sadly, even after the war, the Army kept the land and the villagers were never allowed move back to their homes.

Finally, she moved into a nursing home. And when she died, aged 97, she returned home at last, to be buried in Tyneham churchyard.

Tyneham: The Lost Village of Dorset by Andrew Norman and Mary Hurst, Halsgrove £6.95 pb.


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