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