Tyneham: visiting a ghost village in rural England stuck forever in a 1940s time warp.

Tyneham, Dorset

In 1943 Tyneham villagers were given just a month to evacuate their homes in support of the war effort.  They were told they could return after the war was over, but they never went back. The village now stands as a testament to that era, with some dilapidated houses, a phone box and a few lovingly restored buildings.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy ghost towns and other abandoned buildings.  We don’t have so many ghost towns in the UK; the country is too crowded and too small. Abandon anything here for any length of time and it will be bought up by developers and made into a luxury housing estate or a supermarket.  

That’s why I was excited to track down this place.

Getting a bit busy at this point

Until the 1940s Tyneham was a small village on the south coast of England.  It had a school room, a postoffice and a church. Most of the villagers would have made their living from farming or fishing. Life would have been hard.  People had large families, all living together in small houses. There would have been no electric or running water, in common with most small rural settings at that time. 

St Mary’s church has been restored . Like most rural communities at that time, village life revolved around the church.

Between the two world wars the village population started to dwindle.  Industrialisation was changing the way of life for many.  The schoolroom closed in 1932, due to insufficient numbers of children.   By the start of the second world war only around 250 people were left living in Tyneham.  

The schoolroom, restored to its former glory. You do rather take pot luck as to whether it is open but I was lucky…

Inside the recreated schoolroom
All children up to 14 years old would have been taught in this one room, recreated here

In December 1943 the military took over the village and the land around it, to use for training soldiers fighting in the Second World War.  The villagers, numbering around 225 by then, were given a month’s notice to evacuate their homes.  This was on the understanding that they would move back after the war was over.  

Except they never did.  The military kept hold of the land, making a compulsory purchase in 1952.  

Tyneham was run on a feudal system.  The wealthy landowners received compensation for the land (around £30k) however the villagers were all tenants and as such received only small amounts of money for the vegetables they had planted and never got to eat. 

This phone box arrived in 1929. Before that villagers only had a phone located in the back room at the post office to keep in touch with the outside world, or they could send a letter.

This phonebox is a replica.  In 1985 they filmed the movie Comrades here (no I don’t remember it either but it’s on Amazon Prime) and accidentally destroyed the original.  This one was brought in by the film company to replace it. More recently it was completed with these notices to replicate just how it would have looked in 1943 when the village was abandoned.  

Worbarrow Bay

Nearby Worbarrow Bay

After you have finished looking around the village there is a track (well signposted) leading down to the beach at Worbarrow Bay.  It is around twenty minutes walk away.  This part of the coast is only accessible either from Tyneham when the road is open or from walking along the coastal path from nearby villages, so it makes a somewhat quieter beach to enjoy. In an area becoming increasingly (over) developed it is a welcome break.

Worbarrow Bay: there are no hotels or cottages, and by-laws prevent any kind of shops or services

Getting There

The village is shut away in the Lulworth range, inaccessible for much of the week.  The MOD open the land to the public at specific times, normally weekends and holidays (but not every weekend, you need to check) when it is not being used for military exercises.

I almost didn’t go, since their own website said how difficult it was to find (and I’d had a week of driving in circles trying to find things that weren’t even declared difficult).

Actually it’s not too hard. There is no mobile phone signal (since nobody lives there) but it is on Google maps.  You need to drive along narrow country lanes for what feels like an eternity and eventually you get there.  There is no public transport (anything bigger than a car wouldn’t get through the lanes). There is a £2 ‘suggested donation’ for car parking but entry to the village is free.

The nearest town is Wareham.  

7 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah I hope you are keeping well. What a fabulous place. I have never heard of it. However, I did live in a road once called Tyneham. So at least I now know. It is great that these places still exist even though they should not have been put in that position in the first place! xx

    • Tyneham road sounds terribly posh! There’s another one of these places in Wiltshire apparently, so now I’ve become obsessed by going there as well. Yes, it’s a sad story; a lot of the people leaving their homes would have been quite old and had lived there all their lives.

    • Sarah, thanks for this wonderful piece on Tyneham. I had no idea, truly fascinating. One has to wonder what happened to those told to leave. How could they find somewhere to live & make a living in such tough times. How heartbreaking for all, though one hopes some found greater opportunities outside.
      Thanks for taking the effort to track down this village. Always grateful for your explorations. You really help broaden my picture of the world.

      • A lot of the residents would have been quite old; it would be far harder for some of them who had lived in the village all their lives. For younger people there would have been more opportunities; they’d get to live in a nearby town with electric and running water and the kids would go to school, rather than have to help their parents on the farm most days.
        It’s still an injustice though. The villagers just accepted what the government made them do; there was no setting up a Go Fund Me page or lobbying parliament.
        Interesting place though. It’s a shame they haven’t looked after it better over the years.

  2. New reader and fellow lover of abandoned places here. Bonus points for abandoned placed you have to sneak into because that feel like proper shenanigans. I was at Tyneham recently, it’s fab isn’t it? You must visit Imber village up on Salisbury plain. A bit trickier to visit as MoD keeps it off limits most of the year but a lovely little place with a similar history.

    Enjoying browsing your posts and love the blog name!

    • Ah thanks, Imber was the place I was trying to tell someone about and couldn’t remember the name. They’re supposed to be open for a week at the end of August; there’s even a no car day when a trail of Routemaster buses go there on August 21st.
      I was fascinated by Tyneham but I prefer somewhere a bit naughtier to go a smooch around really, rather than dutifully turning up on openday.

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